Across The Great Divide

Two of Australia’s prominent actresses, Robyn Nevin and Pamela Rabe, are taking the plunge and moving into unknown territory in Sydney and Melbourne.

We have become so used to the great divide between theatre in Sydney and Melbourne that when an actress of the stature of Robyn Nevin says she is leaving Sydney to base herself in Melbourne it seems as though she ought to apply for a visa and have her passport endorsed.

But even as Nevin is planning to travel south, Pamela Rabe, an actress of more than equal stature, has forsaken Melbourne and moved her base of operations to Sydney, relinquishing — for a time — the company of her husband, Roger Hodgman, artistic director of the Melbourne Theatre Company.

Except for next month, when both she and Robyn Nevin are appearing in MTC productions. Robyn Nevin, the diminutive powerhouse, is playing the role of Bunny, in John Guare’s bizarre comedy ‘The House of Blue Leaves’, written originally in 1971 and revived to great acclaim on Broadway last year.

Pamela Rabe, tall and febrile, takes on the role of Josie in one of the later plays of Eugene O’Neill, ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten‘. This play, written in that final outburst of creativity before O’Neill succumbed to Parkinson’s disease, prefigures his later attempt in ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ at coming to terms with his mother’s long-term drug addiction for which he blamed himself.

Pamela Rabe | The Age Interview 1990

‘The House of Blue Leaves’, directed by Mr Hodgman, opens on 3 November at the Playhouse in the Victorian Arts Centre. A week later ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ premieres at Russell Street.

Ms Rabe, who came to Australia from Canada in 1983 when Roger Hodgman was appointed head of drama at the Victorian College of the Arts, sees many similarities between Australia and Canada, including the sibling rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, which she likes to the gulf between Toronto and Montreal.

Canada tried to build up a facade of splitting our capital into two cities, and you’re forced to choose which one you’re going to go to and in making the choice it’s like you’ve made a pledge of allegiance. So that doing something as simple as going up and getting a Job in Sydney required that I shift my life and say: ‘I am now based in Sydney’. I knew I had to do that to get a look-in because I knew nobody was going to come down and have a look at me in Melbourne,” Ms Rabe says. (more…)

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New Face In Town

PAMELA RABE earned accolades from critics for her performances with the Melbourne Theatre Company. In Sydney she is attracting similar attention. AMRUTA SLEE reports

Pamela Rabe | New Face In TownAs a fresh-faced drama student in Canada, Pamela Rabe played out her first professional role — a hooker — under the gaze of Tennessee Williams.
The legendary American playright was guest director at the tiny Vancouver Playhouse Acting School where she studied theatre. Rabe, rehearsing a small part, had plenty of time to observe Williams who had a disconcerting habit of discussing actors’ merits while they were on stage.
He told me I had great legs,” she says cheerfully. To put it in perspective she explains she was so intimidated by everyone at the time that being watched by a theatrical icon was no more frightening than anything else. Now she sees it as a great introduction to the industry.

After that she fell in love with an Australian and in 1983 came out here to marry him — a move which coincided with the start of her acting career.
Home was Melbourne, where she became familiar to audiences as a member of the Melbourne Theatre Company, but at the moment it’s Sydney. “No-one in Sydney has seen me. I’m a new face.” she says. (more…)

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A Cartoon Caricature On Stage

Cartoonist Jules Feiffer took the techniques of his satirical art and applied them to the stage when he wrote ‘Little Murders‘ in the late sixties. As in caricature, he began with common human foibles and enlarged and exaggerated them to the point where they became both hilarious and devastating.

He is said to have predicted the Me Generation and was the first of the humorists, like Woody Allen and Gary Trudeau, to exploit the neuroses, fears and alienation of the “urban beast” living with the constant assault on the senses in a big city.

Pamela Rabe hams it up in preparation for her role as an all-american daughter in "Little Murders"Pamela Rabe hams it up in preparation for her role as an all-american daughter in “Little Murders”

Although the play is now regarded as one of the greatest American comedy of the 20th Century, it closed after four shows when it first opened in New York in 1967. Pamela Rabe, the Canadian-born actress and winner of the Green Room award for Best Actress in ‘Gertrude Stein and Companion‘, plays the all-American daughter Patsy. She says that Feiffer’s vision of random violence as a part of everyday life was too close to the bone. Although it received many awards it “got slammed in the press”. (more…)

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LIVING SO FAR from the family homestead in Canada means that Melbourne actress Pamela Rabe doesn’t often get the chance to see her family, so it’s no wonder that seeing them, or at least talking to them, would be high on her list of priority Christmas presents. “I’d just love the opportunity to see them all again. We haven’t been together for years,” she says. “There are eight of us, and I’m the only one outside the country. The others are scattered all over Canada. Christmas was usually the only time we spent together. Unfortunately, I can’t go home this year due to work commitments and none of them can come here, so I’m feeling very lonely. “The next best thing would be a phone link-up. Can you imagine eight of us trying to hold a conversation? None of it would make sense with all the giggling!” (more…)

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Story of A Female Love Affair

Suzy Freeman-Greene reports on the highly successful play about author, Gertrude Stein, and her lover, Alice B. Toklas.

Gertrude Stein was an irrepressible woman. Mirthful and dry-witted, she reigned for 40 years over the literary and art circles of Paris. Her friends included Picasso and Matisse; her protege was Ernest Hemingway. She was brilliant, snobbish, vain and warm-hearted.

But, as famous people often do, Stein drew her strength and inspiration from a seemingly ordinary morta. Alice B Toklas, was plain, ascerbic, slightly paranoid and totally committed to Stein whom she recognised as a genius. The two lived together from 1907 until 1948 in their legendary apartment at 27 Rue de Sleurus.

Pam & Miriam | Original Photo by Doris Thomas/Fairfax MediaPam & Miriam (Colorised Edit) | Original Photo by Doris Thomas/Fairfax Media

According to British actor, Miriam Margoyles, who is in Australia to play Stein in ‘Gertrude Stein and a Companion‘, theirs was a true-love story. “Everybody wants a wife — and Gertrude had one,” she said.

As much a tribute to Toklas as Stein, the two-woman play has been acclaimed world-wide since it was first performed in 1984. Margoyle has played Stein in Britain, the United States, Canada, and now Melbourne. Pamela Rabe is the new Alice B Toklas. (more…)

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Alice Toklas Get Her Due

Miriam Margoyles and Pamela Rabe, who star in ‘Gertrude Stein and a Companion’, the play about the American couple who were once the toast of the Paris literati, are keen to set the record straight: Alice B. Toklas, the often overlooked half of the relationship, was no lapdog.

According to Ms Rabe, the Melbourne actress who plays Alice in what the pair believe is the definitive version of the couple’s life: “The public perception is that Gertrude was the forceful one, the mover, the doer, and Alice was just the shadow in the background, hanging off the glory of Gertrude. I think that those that were close to them were aware that the balance was slightly different.”

The willowy Ms Rabe and, in her own words, the “short, fat and Jewish” Ms Margolyes — who have been described as a couple as incongruous as Stein and Toklas themselves — were preparing for the play’s Melbourne opening (tonight, at the Universal Theatre, Fitzroy). after a successful Sydney season. Despite its title, they said ‘Gertrude Stein and a Companion’ was essentially about Alice and her crucial role in the relationship.

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ 40-year relationship began early this century. Gertrude, a writer, would “hold court” with Paris’ “literati and glitterati” — Picasso, Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, “anyone who was anyone” — while Alice, an intellectual in her own right, would entertain the wives.

“Gertrude was a wonderful self-publicist,” Ms Rabe said. “When Alice met her, her bells rang and she made an instant decision that this was someone who needed her and vice versa and she then set about devoting her life to making Gertrude possible; to making Gertrude happy, secure; making it possible for her to write and for her to hold court… the only credit, the only kudos that she needed was from Gertrude.” (more…)

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