Interview: Shaw Expert David Staller Talks DEAR LIAR at Irish Repertory Theatre

Staller discusses stepping back on stage, his relationship with George Bernard Shaw's work, and more.

By: Apr. 24, 2023
Interview: Shaw Expert David Staller Talks DEAR LIAR at Irish Repertory Theatre
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Irish Repertory Theatre is presenting The Letter Series this month! For this two-part event, Irish Rep will present eight performances each of Dear Liar and Love Letters. Directed by Charlotte Moore, Dear Liar is adapted from the real-life missives between Mrs. Patrick Campbell and George Bernard Shaw, and stars Melissa Errico & David Staller. Performances runs April 25-30 on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage.

Next month (May 30- June 4), Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti will appear in A.R. Gurney's Love Letters.

David Staller is the founder and artistic director of the Gingold Theatrical Group, which presents the performance series, Project Shaw. Staller is the first person ever to direct performances of all of Shaw's plays, and now in Dear Liar, he will be starring as the man himself.

BroadwayWorld spoke with Staller about starring in Dear Liar at Irish Repertory Theatre!

You last appeared at Irish Rep in their 2016 Gala, how does it feel to return to the Irish Rep Stage as part of The Letter Series?

Well, Charlotte and Ciaran are like family to me. We've collaborated many times over the years, with me both as a director and an actor. It has, however, been a dozen years since I last threw myself on stage as an actor and, were it not for the feeling of being embraced by people I love in a place of safety, I'd have run like mad in the other direction.

Along with some pals, we founded Gingold Theatrical Group in 2006 as an activist theatre company, devoted to championing human rights and free speech using the work and socio-political precepts of George Bernard Shaw as our guide and inspiration. While putting GTG together, I was actually in one of Shaw's plays (MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION) at the Irish Rep. Our programming includes full off-Broadway productions, staged readings, a new play development series, NYC educational partnerships, discussion groups, and offers a research facility in our office! Getting to kick this play around with these folks is just a lark!

You are starring in Dear Liar as George Bernard Shaw. You have an extensive knowledge of Shaw; how does it feel to now be embodying him in this play?

With the tacit understanding that I never met Mr. Shaw, nor has anyone reading this I should think, I'm no more embodying GBS than Ms. Streisand embodied Fanny Brice! The fun is serving his words in a manner that, I hope, humanizes a deeply emotional and surprisingly available man. I'll tell you a secret (and don't tell anyone), people have been asking me to present this play of letters for years! Personally, I've really never had any interest in seeing anyone pretend to be Shaw, nor see a play about him. Now in my dotage, I finally figured I've nothing to lose, and that (particularly with Melissa Errico, with whom I've worked plenty) I may as well give it a shot and see what it feels like, and to remain open to learning as much as I can from actually living in his words as an actor and where it take me as just a simple boy from Illinois.

Have you learned anything about Shaw that you hadn't previously known? And have you learned anything new about yourself in performing this role?

Shaw, as a living breathing activist humanitarian, was introduced to me when I was ten by my godmother, Hermione Gingold. Not in person, of course, but through his incredibly entertaining and insightful writings. She sent me a copy of Shaw's MAN AND SUPERMAN and suggested I begin at page one and write my impressions and questions. So, my learning curve has been more about myself than about GBS. It's been about a dozen years since I acted on stage, and as I've been busy running Gingold Theatrical Group as a producer and director, I'd quite forgotten the amount of mechanics involved in the basic actor techniques from a personal stance: protecting the chords (particularly during allergy season), breathing, the physicality, and so on... and this is a staged reading! I'm exercising a room in my brain I'd rather forgotten was there, waiting for me. Thank all the gods I don't have to memorize the damn thing!

The greatest discoveries, since you ask, involve how free I feel knowing that I have no interest in using this to find another job as an actor! No nerves, no pressure, just let it fly and land where it will. It only reinforces my deep love and admiration for all those who choose to be actors and how much that shared communication between artists and an audience can accomplish. Providing the opportunity for artists to collaborate is the greatest joy of administrating GTG, and I know I'll enjoy it all even more once I close the book on this little adventure.

You are starring opposite Melissa Errico, how has it been working with her?

Melissa Errico is a gloriously unique creation and just being in the room with her is always a never-ending delight and adventure. Ironically, I once cast her in a staged reading as part of Gingold's PROJECT SHAW series as one of the characters mentioned in these letters between Shaw and his muse, Mrs. Patrick Campbell. She was, of course, fab.

What would you like to say to people who are planning to see Dear Liar as part of Irish Rep's The Letter Series?

Hello, to all of you fine folks who are considering joining us at the Irish Rep's presentation of DEAR LIAR. You'll do yourself a great favour by doing a wee bit of research before you show up. Just look up George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell. They were huge, a really big deal in their day and mostly forgotten today. GBS was an incredibly poor and uneducated boy from Dublin, completely disenfranchised and unwanted, took himself to London with no money or connections, and through sheer will, self-educated himself and went on the create what we now know as Modern English Drama and even helped redefine the English language!

He's mistakenly written off as an elitist intellectual: wrong! His work (he read lots of Freud) is deeply emotional, sexual, and very, very funny. This little theatre piece, created in the 1950s, incorporates 40 years of letters between these two titans of the Theatre. Every human emotion anyone has ever experienced is crammed into these amusingly tempestuous exchanges. We're having such a blast and we look forward to sharing it with all of you. Make sure you say hello, afterwards!


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