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Broadway Bound

Episode 38

REMEMBER CARRIE?

September 19, 1998

ROBIN PAIGE AND THE REHEARSAL
THE BIRTH OF A LEGEND?

Preview Postponement and Last Minute Cast Replacement Plague Highly Anticipated Off-Broadway Play

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by Wolfgang von Zaftig and Patrique vaan Straade

Robin Paige
Ever since Robin Paige first stepped onto a West End theatre stage eleven years ago, at the ripe old age of eight, she has been dreaming about her American debut. That decade saw her win a place for herself in London's intensely competitive theatre scene as a bright, beautiful young actress destined for great things. Her roles, of increasing significance, in 29 plays and musicals, for a laundry list of London's most prestigious producing organizations, she sees as having prepared her well for tonight's first performance in her home country, her dream come true.

However, as Sondheim wisely observed, "dreams come true, not free." Robin Paige has paid a high physical and emotional price for tonight's big break. Miss Paige has been rehearsing 20 hours a day for the last week, under the demanding supervision of the woman she is replacing. And she is replacing Drema Paige, her own grandmother, after Drema's sudden hospitalization, just over a week ago, with a partially debilitating illness. The specific diagnosis has not been released, but insiders say Drema probably will not, at some point in the future, resume public appearances.

When the curtain rises tonight, at the Drema Paige Theatre, on the first preview performance of Wilbur Valentine's new comedy The Rehearsal, to reveal her sitting alone, onstage, playing an actress attempting to memorize her lines, the audience will bear witness to both the beginning of a career and the end of an era. Robin Paige is replacing, on one week's notice, the legendary actress Drema Paige, in what was to be Drema's return, after years of absence, to the New York Theatre, may also give birth to her own legend.

The grapevine has been literally ablaze these last several days with rumors and conjecture about this production. The play itself is heralded as that rarest of all creatures, a comedy that is actually funny. Those who claim to have read the script speak of laughing so hard as to cause themselves grave physical injury. A Tony nomination as Best Play appears to be a certainty. And David E. Leigon, playing a young and not as brittle as one might imagine Noel Coward, is said to rival Douglas Sills for virility and looks and Nathan Lane for a sure sense of comic timing and delivery.

But the most impressive buzz is reserved for Robin Paige. Those who claim to have been admitted to the closed rehearsals this week - and, by my count, they number in the hundreds - speak in awed, hushed voices of a glow, an ethereal quality in Miss Paige not seen on the New York stage since the heyday of Katherine Hepburn and Lynn Fontanne.

Suddenly, the fall theatre season seems brighter and more promising than it did just days ago.

THE REHEARSAL A new comedy by Wilbur Valentine, starring Robin Paige with David E. Leigon as NoŽl Coward. Previews begin September 19 for a September 24 opening.

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The sidewalk in front of The Drema Paige Theatre
The first preview performance of The Rehearsal
At Intermission

"There you are! Is it over already?"

Where have you been?

"Sorry I'm late. I didn't mean to miss the whole thing."

You didn't. It's intermission.

"What?"

You heard me. It's intermission.

"Jeez! It's 10:30. How long did you delay the curtain?"

Only ten minutes.

"You mean the first act ran two hours and twenty minutes?"

Give or take a couple of minutes, yes. It seemed like two hours and twenty years.

"What happened? What's wrong?"

Our leading lady turned into a zombie on her first line and our leading man panicked after fifteen minutes and has been sitting on the stage mumbling his lines ever since.

"Why are you so calm? Aren't you going to do anything?"

I am doing something. I'm standing here watching the audience leaving in disbelief. I figure we've got about 35 people left in the theatre, though about half of them are asleep.

"But . . . is this what you meant when you said tonight would be an ordeal?"

First performances are usually quite rough. However, I really don't believe I've ever been present at one quite as bad as this. Even the ushers are stunned; I haven't heard one "Springtime for Hitler" joke yet.

"What are we going to do?"

Well, as soon as this is over, I'm going home and getting a good night's sleep. I've already left a general call for ten tomorrow morning. We'll sort it all out then. I expect you to be there, tomorrow morning, by the way. Not out somewhere getting drunk.

"I'm not drunk. I'm late because I was arranging a surprise for you."

Oh, goody. I can hardly wait. What is it?

"Here it, I mean he is now. I'd like you to meet Bob Fosse."

In Albert Camus: A Life, an enormously engaging, vibrant, and richly researched biography of Albert Camus, the French writer, journalist, and playwright, Olivier Todd has drawn on personal correspondence, notebooks, and public records never before tapped, as well as interviews with Camus's family, friends, fellow workers, writers, mentors, and lovers.

Todd shows us a Camus who struggled all his life with irreconcilable conflicts; between his loyalty to family and his passionate nature, between the call to political action and the integrity to his art, between his support of the native Algerians and his identification with the forgotten people, the poor whites. A very private man, Camus could be charming and prickly, sincere and theatrical, genuinely humble, yet full of great ambition.

Todd paints a vivid picture of the time and place that shaped Camus; his impoverished childhood in the Algerian city of Belcourt, the sea and the sun and the hot sands that he so loved (he would always feel an exile elsewhere), and the educational system that nurtured him. We see the forces that lured him into communism, and his attraction to the theater and to journalism as outlets for his creativity.

The Paris that Camus was inevitably drawn to is one that Todd knows intimately, and he brings alive the war years, the underground activities that Camus was caught up in during the Occupation and the bitter postwar period, as well as the intrigues of the French literati who embraced Camus after his first novel, L'Etranger, was published. Todd is also keenly attuned to the French intellectual climate, and as he takes Camus's measure as a successful novelist, journalist, playwright and director, literary editor, philosopher, he also reveals the temperament in the writer that increasingly isolated him and crippled his reputation in the years before his death and for a long time after. He shows us the solitary man behind the mask, debilitated by continuing bouts of tuberculosis, constantly drawn to irresistible women, and deeply troubled by his political conflicts with the reigning French intellectuals, particularly by the vitriol of his former friend Sartre over the Algerian conflict.

Filled with sharp observations and sparkling with telling details, here is a wonderfully human portrait of the Nobel Prizewinning writer, who died at the age of forty-six and who remains one of the most influential literary figures of our time.

Albert Camus: A Life
by Olivier Todd, Benjamin Ivry (Translator)
List Price $30.00
Knopf
ISBN 0679428550


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Broadway Bound is written by Mike Reynolds


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