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  • David Staller's "Project Shaw"
  • R. F. Dietrich (bio)

What do Hermione Gingold and Edwin Booth have to do with Bernard Shaw? More than anyone would guess, but you might never guess if you didn't know that the link is a jack-of-all-theatrical-trades named David Staller, the director of the Gingold Theatrical Group, Inc., currently dedicated to producing Shaw's entire dramatic corpus in concert readings at the Players Club in New York's Gramercy Park. This club was modeled on London's Garrick Club and instituted in 1888 by actor Edwin Booth, with the assistance ofMark Twain and a host of other notables of the day. Booth's third-floor apartment at the club, in fact, is still there and still preserved as it was in the 1880s, looking rather like Miss Haversham's rooms in Great Expectations, albeit with considerably fewer cobwebs if equally musty air. The club has constituted a sort of unofficial Hall of Fame for actors, mostly American, whose often striking portraits line the walls on every floor, and now this Hall of Fame concept is being officially developed by John Martello, the club's executive director. A visit to the club is worth making for its own sake, never mind what event might be there, but you can visit online anytime at www.theplayersnyc.org. One of the features of the club is its Great Hall, a mahogany-paneled, theatrically atmospheric room with a stage at the back that makes possible the acting or reading of plays to an audience of up to three hundred, an excellent venue for Staller's "Project Shaw."

As for Hermione Gingold, this actress-comedienne, a friend of Staller's father, took young David under her wing during his early days in New York with such warmth of friendship that he decided to name his theater company after her, partly to fulfill her own unrealized dream of having her own theater company one day. At her apartment on 54th Street, she would often invite friends over (actors or not) for impromptu readings of [End Page 239] whatever plays struck their fancy, with Shaw's plays sometimes being the choice. Staller reports that Hermione, with her deep voice, often played roles such as Caesar in Caesar and Cleopatra and Higgins in Pygmalion, with hilarious results. These performances must also have contributed to Staller's conviction that Shaw's plays could be very effective as concert pieces.


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But how did David Staller arrive at something so ambitious as "Project Shaw"? By a very circuitous route, it seems. Although enamored of Shaw from an early age, he was unable to work Shaw's plays into his life in a practical way for quite some time. Born in Glencoe, Illinois, north of Chicago, he shuttled between his mother's home there and his father's home in England, gradually developing a passion for the theater by taking on understudy roles in Pal Joey at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago at the age of sixteen and then, when a student at the University of Southern California (where he was enrolled in a master class by Rostropovich in cello), for Pearl Bailey's touring of Hello Dolly!, leading to his Broadway debut in the chorus line. His appearances in the original Hal Prince production of Evita and in the Joel Grey revival of Cabaret led to his developing his own cabaret act, "Noel and Cole," a tribute to the songwriting of Noel Coward and Cole Porter, first in the fabled Oak Room at the Algonquin and ultimately in an expanded version at Carnegie Hall, drawing rave reviews. Among his solo albums is Easy to Remember, featuring the songs of Rodgers and Hart. For some time he has been a member of the [End Page 240] Actors Company Theatre (see www.tactnyc.org), appearing for it in many productions, among them Androcles and the Lion and Heartbreak House. Finally Shaw began to show up in his theater life, and he became especially known for impersonations of Henry Higgins in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, in the latter of which he was praised by a critic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1480
Print ISSN
0741-5842
Pages
pp. 239-243
Launched on MUSE
2008-12-24
Open Access
No
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