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"Celui qui a dit 'NON'/He Who Said 'NO'"

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Over in Paris, at the huge Palais des Congrès (seats 3,800), I caught Celui qui a dit "NON" (He Who Said "NO"), a spectacle by two Alains (Decaux and Peyrefitte), both members of the French Academy, directed by the actor turned producer-of-spectaculars Robert Hossein. Visualize Radio City Music Hall turned into a legitimate theater for a play about Charles de Gaulle and his role in World War II, sort of like a Spielberg movie as a panoramic stage extravaganza with a cast of more than 100 enacting battle scenes, mass executions of hostages, high-echelon political and strategic debates, dissensions within the French military, infighting among resistance groups, etc.

At the core is the tricky -- sometimes fraternal, sometimes fratricidal -- relationship between De Gaulle and Churchill (superbly played by Jacques Boudet and Robert Hardy), with Anthony Eden as conciliator. Also the strife between generals De Gaulle and Giraud and the historic roles played by Roosevelt and the heroic resistance organizer and martyr Jean Moulin. It includes wide-screen projections of documentary footage and, between scenes, energetic drumming by six uniformed percussionists. It is propaganda, but highly astute; it is history, but full of witty and literate guesses at what was said and done behind closed doors. Impressive, too, that during an uninterrupted 160 minutes I saw no one leave for the toilets -- a tribute to both the French attention span and French bladders.


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