200 came to theater to be Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

May 23, 1991|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — New York--The address was east of Seventh Avenue rather than east of Eden, but James Dean showed up anyway.

In fact, about 200 James Deans made their way to the Actors Theater Workshop on West 28th Street earlier this week to take part in a look-alike casting call for a new off-Broadway play, "James Dean/A Dress Rehearsal."

There were short James Deans, tall James Deans, young James Deans, somewhat older James Deans, and a few whose resemblance to the late cult hero was strictly coincidental.

Jason Joyce, 17, of Toms River, N.J., said that friends had been telling him for more than a year that he resembled Dean.

"He's my idol," Jason said. "I watch his movies all the time."

James Dalton, 22, of Norwood, Mass., said that some people had told him he looked like Dean, but that as far as he was concerned it was more that "I have his essence."

The play's author and co-producer, Patricia A. Leone, 40, a construction company executive with a yen for theater, said she planned to open the play Sept. 30, the 36th anniversary of the actor's death in an automobile accident at age 24.

Dean, born in Marion, Ind., on Feb. 8, 1931, made only three movies before he died. But his image of moodiness and confusion, of loneliness, anger and sensitivity, as well as his untimely death, made him a symbol of his generation, the embodiment of the restlessness and rebellion of American youth in the 1950s.

"We don't know who the real James Dean was," Ms. Leone said. "We have only his three movies. He is his characters. But the real James Dean? I don't think that question has been answered."

The auditions were held in a smallish room whose only decorations were three wall posters of the actor. First came brief interviews, then a more extensive look late in the day for those who made it past the first cut.

Ms. Leone asked the actors to become Dean: to pace around the room, strike a couple of poses, run their fingers through their hair, stand up against the wall as the rebel would. There was a soupcon of dejection, a plethora of angst.

When it was his turn, Mr. Dalton wanted to reach for a cigarette. What, after all, was James Dean without a cigarette dangling from his mouth?

But there was a problem. "There's no smoking allowed," Ms. Leone said. "The fire laws."

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