Sunday, July 11, 2010

Just 45 Minutes From Broadway by Henry Jaglom

By Joe Straw

“You don’t understand! I coulda had class.  I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody. Instead of a bum.  Which is what I am. Let’s face it.”Terry Malloy - On The Waterfront 

A very recognizable Henry Jaglom came in prior to curtain, incognito, nicely dressed with bucket hat pulled down upon his head.  He sprang cat like up the risers and gave a friendly patron a Cheshire like smile and took his seat in the back row.  At intermission he sprang from his seat into the lobby and disappeared only to repeat the same process again for the second act.  Why? Superstition?  Too darn shy to meet with the common folk?  Answers to questions we may never learn because, after all, he is an actor.  And honestly, you just can’t figure those people out. 

Just 45 Minutes From Broadway by Henry Jaglom and directed by Gary Imhoff is playing at the Edgemar Center For The Arts in Santa Monica through September 19th and is presented by The Rainbow Theatre Company.

This version, which has been running for 7 months, is a reopening with the one of a kind Karen Black in a co-starring role.

Just 45 Minutes From Broadway takes place in upstate New York.  In that place is a home filled with actors trying their best in that continual search for the next job. And, at this point in their lives, none are having much success.

There are no rules on stage for the actor.  As it so often applies, in this trade, rules stifles creativity.  Forget about being judgmental and let the emotions take you where they will.  

But, separating stage and life can be a tricky situation especially for this family of actors. After all, the dreams are just 45 minutes away and life is life, it happens because it can, and does.

Pandora (Tanna Frederick) is the beautifully slim emotionally charged red headed daughter looking for, what else, a man.  This tragedy of not having found him at this point in her life haunts her.

The play starts with Pandora up in the attic, pretending, (possibly that she’s been married and looking back on her life) she opens up a Pandora’s box and stumbles across a carefully packaged stack of letters. Opening one of the letters she discovers a disturbing secret about infidelities in her family.

How can you live with people you’ve known your whole life and know very little of their lives?  Finding an answer to that truth is what she carries throughout the play.  

Pandora is staying with her mother Vivien Cooper (Karen Black) and her father George Isaacs (Jack Heller). 

Staying with them is Larry Cooper (David Proval) whose acting career has been downgraded to doing Guys and Dolls at dinner theatre. He is Vivien’s brother and a very likeable long-term houseguest.

Also living with them is a mysterious friend with a southern accent Sally Brooks (Harriet Schock).   Why the southern accent?  Well, it’s anybody’s guess.  (Although, it’s probably her natural accent.)

It is, in the nicest sense of the word, an emotionally charged household without the gratifying release especially in the night when everyone is up worrying about things that they have no control over. 

As disheveled, as he can be, George is upset about getting his next four hours of sleep and blaming Pandora for eating his sleeping cookies.  Oddly enough she seems to take the blame in stride as one of his things but never denies taking the cookies.

Last, but not least, everyone is strung out over the arrival of Betsy (Julie Davis), their daughter and her fiancé Jimmy Halkin (David Garver) whom they have not met.

Pandora, with a raging case of jealously, cries at the slightest mention of the word, “husband”.

It appears that over the long haul George has had more acting success than the rest of them.  He has an interview on Skype later that afternoon and he gripes that he’s got to get some sleep! And he needs his cookies!

Later Betsy and her fiancé Jimmy are in the house (no big arrival scene) and Pandora is nowhere to be found.  This couple has something up their sleeves but it is only reveal it later in the play.

Jimmy takes a liking to everyone in the house but takes a special interest in Pandora and follows her up into the attic, and everywhere else for that matter.  It is a matter that doesn’t bother Betsy in the slightest. She seems to be willing to sacrifice for the good cause.

Everyone seems to have a secret they want to get off their chest.  Those moments eventually come but it comes out with very little heartache.

Frederick as Pandora has an inescapable charm, witty, touchable, and someone you would want to be around only to listen to her stories of unconquered males in her life and of blue bull frogs.  What she whispers to her sister, well, we just don’t know.  There is a very interesting effect from that conversation but there is no payoff.

Black as Vivien has this aura about her and creates this feeling of a desire to be closer to her to listen to her soft whispers of her life.

Heller as George disheveled in the first scene and later in the same day a different person, almost unrecognizable, was fascinating, filled with life and outer conflict. A very nice performance.

Proval was quite marvelous in this production.  He was a very likeable houseguest.  It appeared he came in inebriated after a Guys and Dolls performance was canceled for reasons not entirely clear. Ultimately he gets what he wants, but does he actually force the journey or does it fall in his lap?

Garver as Jimmy seems not to care about repercussions from his soon to be ex girlfriend. That conflict was either non-existent or so subtle that it was missed. And Davis as Betsy didn’t seem to mind it either. 

Henry Jaglom has written a play that speaks to a certain core of people, the actor.  There are a lot of marvelous things in this production that slightly focus on the dream: “I coulda been somebody.”

Jaglom writes about Stanislavski but there is much more conflict here than meets the eye. The writing is subtle but undeniably strong.  The characters are mythical and strangely dynamic. It is a ride on Pegasus, which takes us to our lowest depths and elevates us to our highest highs.  It is lost and then gleefully found.

But in this particular production, directed by Gary Imhoff, those moments were not accentuated. Conflict drives the action whether it is internal or external conflict.  It’s very challenging to determine what these people wanted. Stanislavski calls it their objective. In the director’s mind it must be clear and simple.  Ultimately you can figure out what the actors want if  the choice is simple.

But, look, there’s nothing in this production that can’t be fixed. Tighten the moments that change the relationships forever and whatever you do make most of those moments.

Joel Daavid has provided this production with a grand set.  A three level house in upstate New York. Carefully crafted.  Wonderful in spirit!  It fits nicely in the Edgemar Center.  But is it really falling apart as Betsy suggests, or is it just Betsy imagination?

Reservations: 310-392-7327

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