Jerry Stiller may not be an actor associated much with classical theater, but at Monday night's gala for the Shakespeare Theatre Company, the "Seinfeld" star recalled his Shakespearean origins.
"I have done quite a bit of Shakespeare in my lifetime, you may not know this, but then somehow all of this led to going out to California to play the part of Frank Costanza on 'Seinfeld,' " the actor said. He recalled his "substantial" parts including Launce in "The Two Gentleman of Verona" (the character's dog got more attention) and the second murderer in "Richard III." "I was fired as the second murderer because I couldn't get along with the first murderer," he said. "So I don't have too many nice memories of my Shakespearean days."
Stiller and others were on hand to fete F. Murray Abraham, a longtime stage and screen actor, probably best known for his Oscar-winning performance in "Amadeus."
Stiller's favorite story about his old friend was the time that Abraham made an absolute fit in a London hotel lobby over the size of Stiller's room. "'This is Mr. Stiller, the man is a major Broadway star, and you've given him a terrible room,'" Stiller recalled Abraham screaming. "I was beginning to feel a lot more wounded now, believing the things Murray was saying about me," Stiller joked. The hotel clerk eventually relented and gave the acting duo two adjoining rooms each. "But a few years later when Murray was nominated for his Academy Award for 'Amadeus,' a Texas newspaper woman called me up and wanted to know what I knew about this comparatively unknown longshot for an Oscar," Stiller continued. "I told her, I'd seen him once give an even better performance, in a London hotel lobby."
When it was Abraham's turn to take the stage, he said that coming to Washington gave people, "this irrepressible urge to make a speech." Abraham gave a short one, before doing a quick scene from Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice," which earned him a standing ovation. Later, the appreciative actor went table to table saying hello to gala guests including Chris and Kathleen Matthews, Heather and Tony Podesta, Ward Six Councilman Tommy Wells and former Rep. Jane Harman, wife of the late Sidney Harman, for whom the Shakespeare Theatre Company's facility is named.