Once Known as Angelica Torn, the Daughter of American Acting Royalty Takes a "Page" Out of Her Mother's Book
By Harry Haun
Angelica Page, the daughter of Geraldine Page and Rip Torn, used to be known as Angelica Torn. The star of Off-Broadway's Psycho Therapy talks about her lineage — and her next act.
Psycho Therapy, Frank Strausser's manic romp around the psychiatrist's couch, which begins spinning Feb. 7 at Off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre, stars a fully formed actress with a stage-debuting moniker and an award-winning past.
By any other name, Angelica Page is the erstwhile Angelica Torn, the name she was born with and the name she has used for career in acting. Coming from such excellent stock, what else would the natural by-product of Geraldine Page and Rip Torn be doing?
"I've been wanting to do the name change for years," she admits. "There are so many Torns in my family. There are six of us kids. My father has a new wife. She has the name now. And nobody uses my mom's name. I just felt there are plenty of people to carry on my father's last name, but nobody is carrying on my mother's last name. My father thinks it's a terrific idea. He has been pushing for me to do it for a while."
Right now, she's working in a genre where no Torn or Page has ever (or, certainly, rarely) gone before — a flat-out farce in which she's such an undecided ditz she does couples therapy with her ex-boyfriend (Laurence Lau) and her current one (Jeffrey Carlson), much to the collective chagrin of their shrink (Jan Leslie Harding).
"Michael Riedel has been after me for years — 'When are you going to do a comedy, dammit?' — but I don't have the chance that often. I'm hoping that'll change.
"I actually based this character, Lily, on somebody who's been my best friend for 25 years who lives in L.A.," she says. "When you boil it all down, what I like most about this character and this play is that she and it are fun. She's unpredictable, she's zany, she's a love bug because she doesn't quite know what she wants — and that really keeps her in the moment so she's completely, 150 percent present to everything that goes on there. She's investigating life to figure out how she feels about everything.
"It's a bit precarious because we had a short rehearsal period, but we have four pros up there, and we feel safe with each other. Plus, the material's fun to bounce off of."
Page has inherited her mother's grab-bag of tricks to keep it real and go daringly for the unexpected response. "Sometimes I don't even know where my reactions come from," she says. "What I learned about the process — one of the best things I learned from my mother — is knowing the material well enough you can forget everything and leave some things unplanned but trust that whatever you come up with is going to be the right thing. It's a little bit different, as live theatre is — but leaving yourself open to something surprising so you can surprise yourself and the audience."
It's a rough-and-tumble physical comedy, and during previews Page sported an arm cast to prove it. "It happened the first day of staging," she sheepishly admits, "the first day that Jeffrey Carlson was in the city. We were staging that first kiss when I don't want to be near him, and, when we started kissing, I fell backwards and broke my wrist. I was literally swept off my feet by my co-star, but it was worth it.
"I don't know about what goes on at Juilliard, but I've worked with two Juilliard actors and they're the best kissers. Ben Rappaport's the other one. My last boyfriend and I broke up over a play I did with Ben. He couldn't believe that we weren't having an affair. I told him, 'Only on stage.' He could not get over it. Such good training."
Psycho Therapy was one of the plays that surfaced in a weekly salon series Page conducted at her family home in Chelsea for three and a half years. Barbara Ligeti, the producer who brought it in, suggested they do it over the winter. A week later, while attending the reading of a Lyle Kessler play at the Cherry Lane, Page met Angelina Fiordellisi, who runs the theatre and just happened to have an opening.
The Off-Broadway play proved a snug fit with the play that Page will be doing on Broadway. She's part of the all-star cast that will be reviving Gore Vidal's The Best Man at the Schoenfeld. "I'm Catherine. The way my director describes her: 'She's the sex-kitten political aide that John Larroquette paws on.'"
Her previous brush with Broadway was in Warren Leight's 1998 Tony winner, Side Man, in which she wound up playing both female characters — starting with the blowsy barmaid, Patsy, and graduating to the harridan housewife, Terry.
"I originated Patsy. When I first came to Patsy, she had about four lines, and every day Warren would come in with some new pages. He kept writing new scenarios for me so it was really nice to have a part written for me." She covered for Terry and eventually took the role over on Broadway and on tour. She won the Helen Hayes Award when she played Terry at Washington, DC's Kennedy Center.
She recently contended for a second Helen Hayes Award for her performance of Ivy Weston in Tracy Letts' likewise Tony-winning August: Osage County, led by that Energizer bunny of actors, Estelle Parsons.
"One of the reasons I went on that tour of August: Osage County was that I wanted to watch Estelle do that tour. That's what I want to be when I grow up. I feel like we're kin. I've played her daughter twice. After the first time, I said, 'I'm never doing this again,' and then August: Osage County and I was, like, 'Okay! A three-and-a-half hour play, 21 cities in 11 months! Let's go!' On the road with Estelle — it was just divine. You can never rest for a moment when you're on stage with her because she'll eat you alive.
"Ivy's the middle sister who falls in love with her cousin, who turns out to be her brother. I could have done any of the sisters, but Ivy was the part I wanted to play. Her arc was so challenging and her journey so unexpected. It was a much different part for me to play — the wallflower who's almost invisible 'til the third act when, all of a sudden, her mother's not around and you hear what's going on inside her head."
Page's first Broadway job was understudying Natasha Richardson in Anna Christie. Her own father played Anna's father, so that aspect worked out well. "I loved him in Anna Christie. I got to see him every night. That was the one reason I would liked to have gone on. I try to give my understudies always one performance because I didn't get one that time when I understudied. Now, I'm glad I never went on because it put a real fire in my belly to do it. I got this itch."
Last year she started scratching that itch. "We did it at the Actors Studio. It was so, so good. I've been working on it for many years, on and off, exploring it at the Studio. Wilson Milam, the director of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, was our director, and we were about to move it to a commercial run when there was word that the Donmar Warehouse was bringing over an English version. I said, 'So what? Let's have dueling Annas.' Neither production happened, but I just talked to some producers who want to do a site-specific version on a boat at the end of the summer or early fall of this year — for a very limited run, maybe 25 performances."
She believes, for all practical purposes, Torn has quietly retired. "He's got a great place up in Connecticut. He loves farming and fishing — y'know, he seems perfectly content. And he's writing his memoirs." One volatile chapter will be the bizarre show-me-the-way-to-go-home headlines he made last January when he mistook the local Salisbury bank for his home. Father and daughter are currently cooling it.
"We're taking a little bit of a break. I'm sure we'll reconvene. I was the closest to him out of all my siblings for many, many years. I traveled with him a lot of times when he was working so I'm letting my siblings get their fair share of time in now. I need a bit of time to myself right now because my whole family can be a little distracting."
For the actress-to-be, there couldn't be better training than watching Geraldine Page work, and that essentially was her daughter's childhood. "I spent most of my youth either backstage or on a set. I missed a lot of school, which I didn't like, so I was very happy. My mother and I always had some sort of makeshift tutoring system for me.
"She really was of the belief that traveling the world was much more important than sitting in a classroom. I guess she knew that, eventually, I would end up being an actress because I got all this training. I basically grew up backstage at the Music Box Theatre — she did so many plays at the Music Box. Absurd Person Singular was the longest-running comedy at that time. I was at that theatre every single night, and she had the dressing room right off stage that has two rooms so she had the backroom set up for me with the bed, and I would do my homework and order in food and listen to Absurd Person Singular every night. I was about seven or eight at the time. I would watch from the wings, and I was allowed to play around backstage so I learned about theatre super-super-early. There was a lot of that."
There is an "I Remember Mama" in Page, and it's coming out in three ways. "It has been 25 years since my mother passed away, so I'm having a trifectorate — a trilogy of projects that have to do with her: a documentary, a one-person show and a book.
"They're all going to be presented this year. I wrote the play myself, and I'll perform it as well, playing my mother and myself. The working title is Turning Page. We'll see how that works out. The first sharing of the material — my first reading of the play — will be April 30 at the Playwrights-Directors unit of the Actors Studio."
That's a very good place to start. Rip Torn and Geraldine Page met at the Actors Studio.
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