by: Alix Cohen
Some activists take to the barricades, others initiate petitions or work for candidates. Artists often weave political concerns through their chosen forms of expression. David Staller’s appearance in a 2005 production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession reminded him of George Bernard Shaw’s Fabian belief the world must be changed not by force, but by reason, with everyone taking responsibility for his actions. Sympathetic ideals lead the thespian to delve further confirming Shaw’s unpopular, public stands in support of equal rights for the disenfranchised, including women and gays. These, he found, snake through the icon’s writing (criticism, journalism, essays, novels, short stories, and plays) like veins.
Disturbed by a period of our history when equal rights seem to be sidelined, neglected, or abused, the artist formed a non-profit group with like-minded colleagues in an effort to spread Shavian socialist principles through Shaw’s art. “A lifelong fan,” Staller tells an enthusiast-packed Symphony Space, “I thought, as an experiment, I would present Shaw’s plays in hope of a kind of ripple effect. They’re all comedies, even Saint Joan after they light the match.” The mission statement reads, in part: Gingold Theatrical Group is dedicated to presenting plays about Human Rights using the work of George Bernard Shaw as our platform. David Staller is in his tenth year as founding Artistic Director.
Every year, GTG presents affordable monthly readings by theater professionals. Since 2012, it has also annually mounted Shaw New York, a theatrical, community festival offering lectures, debates, and public discussions on humanitarian themes. A Shaw play, in collaboration with an Off Broadway theater company, is the festival’s centerpiece. Additionally, educational outreach manifests in various forms. Last year, for example, Staller partnered with board member, Professor Andrew Flescher, to create a Shaw class with Ethics and Humanities focus as part of the SUNY Stony Brook English department.
Tonight, at a seasonal fundraiser, we’re here to enjoy a play “which, only by the barest fingernail margin, helps further the cause of humanity,” Staller comments, grinning in anticipation. How He Lied To Her Husband, a more contemporary parody of Shaw’s own Candida, is a brief, incisive comedy of manners and sociological mirror.
Tyne Daly, festooned with paste diamonds, letting phrases trail like the train of a satin Molyneux , plays Auroroa Bumpas, “the smartest woman in the smartest set in South Kensington.” Aurora is being gratifyingly pursued by wet-behind-the-ears Apjohn (a purposefully affected Tony Yazbeck) who insists she run away with him. Brushing his plan aside like a bug, the upset Aurora tells her suitor his poems have been purloined by her sister-in-law who will surely show Aurora’s husband, Teddy (a wry, pitch-perfect Daniel Davis.)
This happens. Teddy brandishes the sonnets demanding an explanation. Apjohn gallantly attempts to lie in regretful favor of the lady’s honor, but, rejected and met with outrage, reverts to truth. It’s the wonderfully revealing nature of this outrage on which the play pivots. Staller narrates. Holding books which barely impede fluency, the cast has a wonderfully affected, bang-up time. As, of course, do we.
Since the play is slight, performance tonight is prefaced by a short interview of Tyne Daly by group supporter and film historian, the ever charming Robert Osborne. “This is your fourth show with Gingold,” he begins, “Why do you participate?” “It’s for the Shaw,” the actress responds, “Theater’s all about the words and Shaw is a word guy.” Daly’s parents were actors. She had seen them do both well and poorly received Shaw- the latter included being booed off the stage. “Gingold is comparatively benign,” she quips, “They’re on our side.”
“In terms of social responsibility, it’s fitting this is Martin Luther King Day. King made the United States better and Shaw made the UK better, both challenging people to think….David shames actors into coming. It’s kamikaze theater. We arrive at 3:00, read through, and are onstage by 7:00…Still, in the end, it’s a lot of fun.”
I’ll second that.
Check web site below for upcoming schedule.
*Named for Staller’s friend Hermione Gingold with whom he had “many Shavian discussions”
Photographs by Genevieve Rafter Keddy
Gingold Theatrical Group presents How He Lied To Her Husband by Bernard Shaw
Directed by Founding Artistic Director David Staller
Featuring Tyne Daly, Tony Yazbeck, Daniel Davis, David Staller
Prologue Interview by Special Guest, film historian, Robert Osborne
Symphony Space 95th and Broadway
Next Show: February 23-Widower’s Houses