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"Caveman" Plaintiff Tells of Friendship Turned Foul

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"I worked with Rob Becker on staging, characterization, the writing cues, sound cues, lighting, and certainly in shaping the show, as a director does." So claims Peggy Klaus, who is asserting her rights as director of "Rob Becker's Defending the Caveman" in a lawsuit asking damages "believed to be in excess of $200,000."

Speaking to Back Stage from the Berkeley, Calif. offices of her communication and presentation consulting firm, Klaus asserted she was openly regarded as the director of the successful one-man show until it arrived on Broadway and the issue of money cropped up.

"Defending the Caveman" opened at the Helen Hayes Theatre on March 26, 1995. The show has surprised many theatre prognosticators by overcoming largely lukewarm reviews to become the longest-running comedy currently on Broadway. For the record books, it also stands as the longest-running, non-musical, solo performance in Broadway history. Recently, the block of W. 44th St. between 7th and 8th avenues was temporarily renamed "Caveman Way" in commemoration of the show's 400th performance.

Daniel Gildin, Becker's lawyer, declined to address any of Klaus' specific allegations.

On and Off the Playbill

Klaus told Back Stage that, during the show's pre-Broadway tour, Becker called her and "asked if they could put my name on the show--because there was going to be a Playbill now--and if I would send a bio." When the show was first mounted in San Francisco, there was no Playbill. There was, however, a short film that introduced the show and included the credit "directed by Peggy Klaus." The production still begins with a film, though minus the directing credit.

By her account, Klaus discovered her exclusion from the New York production after speaking to Becker's wife, Erin. "She said, 'Isn't it great about Broadway. You're going to be a Broadway director,' " remembered Klaus. She added that soon after, however, Rob Becker called Klaus back, saying his wife had misspoken and that Klaus' name was being removed from the production. When Klaus asked why, Becker said his lawyers and his agent had advised him to do so to avoid paying her royalties.

"I was troubled by it," said Klaus. "I thought about it for a long time, and talked to friends." Four months later, she called Becker back and "told him how upset I was." According to Klaus, Becker "said he had given me this director credit because he was a nice person."

From "Good Time" to Bad

Klaus and Becker met in San Francisco in 1987 on a television stand-up comedy show called "The Good Time Cafe," for which she was talent-coordinator.

Years later, Becker called Klaus when he was putting "Defending the Caveman" together. Klaus said that she attended most of the rehearsals for the show, and--as stated in the lawsuit--contributed approximately 15 hours of work. She did not tour with the show, though she attended a performance in Washington, D.C., and met with Becker afterwards.

Klaus described her relationship to Becker prior to the recent falling-out as "very close."

The "Caveman" case touches upon a suit recently brought by the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC) against Florida's Caldwell Theatre. SSDC charges that the Caldwell knowingly copied Joe Mantello's direction of the New York premiere of Terrence McNally's "Love! Valour! Compassion!" without asking the director's permission. The case--which is headed for court--has reignited the ongoing argument concerning the intellectual property rights of directors, a largely uncharted territory in legal terms.

Though not a member of SSDC, Klaus is seeking payment and royalties based on the union's collective bargaining agreement for Broadway and touring productions. That contract allows for minimums of one and one-half percent of the gross of Broadway and touring productions.

Commenting on directors' property rights, Klaus stated, "I'm not a lawyer, but in my opinion the director's role is to bring together all the pieces of the show. She or he creates the effects and the ambience which, when coupled with good material and actors, make a show a success. Certainly then, this qualifies as the director's intellectual property."

A meeting of the two parties on July 12 failed to bring about an agreement, but Steven I. Hilsenrath, attorney for Klaus, said that he was "cautiously optimistic." The next meeting is scheduled for October. No court date has

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