Sunday, November 30, 2014

Train to Zakopané A True Story of Hate and Love by Henry Jaglom

Tanna Frederick and Mike Falkow - Photo:  Ron Vignone


By Joe Straw

They said where they were traveling to – destinations unknown to me.  Oh, they may have said where, but travel on a train is of a personal nature and when one hears it, it rolls in one ear and out the other.  – The Narrator

Semyon Sapir (Mike Falkow), a dapper young man with deep-set eyes, steps forward into the light to tell a story. This is his story, from his past, of traveling across Poland in the late 1920s on a train, which right now is faded in the background, like a memory, dimly painted on his mental canvas, and one that rolls into focus as the story is told.

In short, it is Semyon’s story of hate and love and the bitterest contradictions of emotions.

The Rainbow Theater Company & Edgemar Center for the Arts present A New Play by Henry Jaglom – Train to Zakopané – directed by Gary Imhoff and produced by Alexandra Guarnieri through March 29th, 2015.

Train to Zakopané by Henry Jaglom is a delicately brilliant and captivating play and one of Jaglom’s finest work of art.  Zakopané is pabulum for theatregoers who crave the written word, of characters finding answers through intercourse, of providing perspectives without the violence associated with differencing perspectives. The cast members are all superb and one is easily enraptured by the conflict and the story of these sorted lives.  

Coming back from a Seder at his brother’s home, Semyon steps backward, slowly onto the train, tramping back into the mix of humanity. He is exhausted as he noticed the less fortunate weary peasants standing on the train, half asleep, or sitting in the aisles.  They were the habitual customers all impatiently waiting to reach their destination.  What did he care about them?  Perhaps little, as this capitalist silently wondered why these people can’t make their own way through life’s miserable indignities.

Semyon’s problem was that he was one of them, compliments of his inadequate secretary who waited too long and could not arrange for a private compartment on this sold-out Easter weekend. He was stuck in the same predicament as those lowly peasants.   

But in a series of fortunate events – perhaps due to the exquisite manner of his dress – Father Alexandrov (Stephen Howard) and Mme. Nadia Selmeczy (Cathy Arden) gestured to Semyon that he should join them and take the open space in their cabin.  

And, happy to separate himself from the dregs of humanity and being an opportunist, Semyon approached them for what he hoped would be polite dialogue with an attentive audience in a friendly and warm train compartment.

Katia Wampusyk (Tanna Frederick) sat passively, embroidering some such nonsense, when Semyon entered their cabin noticing, only a little, the handsome eligible bachelor who enters with, one hopes, not too much baggage.

This was the perfect place for Semyon Sapir and just enough room in the luggage rack for his bag and coat without the need to make room – almost as though it were planned.

So introductions are made, polite kisses to the back of each lady’s hand, much to their delight, and a warming period of light exchange.  

Katia Wampusky occupies herself with needle and thread, embroidering perhaps a gift for someone less fortunate.  She is steadfast, strong, and opinionated. Her parents are now dead – her father under tragic circumstances. She has been working since the age of twelve, first as a nurse’s assistant and then going to school and continuing to work her way into a prominent position at the Grand Sanitarium.  She travels to a newer job and will report to the Polish army the following week. 

Father Alexandrov sees little in his traveling companion, Katia, if only just to share a bottle now and again, the little drips and drabs from his flask.  Not really caring, having little preference for either sex of his entourage, but just welcoming the art of intercourse. Being one of three Poles, he gets a little upset at “Gdansk” being called “Danzig”. And in his impotent despair, he views the current unrest in Germany as troubling for the Poles.

Nadia Petronko is a former actress – her one time exquisite brilliant life cut short by the war 10 years earlier. Now she is traveling to visit her daughter who has gotten herself pregnant and involved with the wrong type of man. Her life is complicated and she remains silent through the ramblings of her anti-Semitic fellow traveler, not a move, a motion, or any disagreeable debate until the time is right.

“I can smell a Jew a kilometer away.” - Katia

Semyon Sapir throughout wears his card-carrying face, showing little emotion to his traveling companions. But it is there, his expression, a disquieting peculiarity when each anti-Semitic opinion is uttered in conversation.  The priest, and the actress, takes Katia’s anti-Semitic remakes in stride for reasons we find out later.  But for Semyon, the pain runs deep and trying to get her to see another light will be a challenge. He accepts the challenge, for in his steadfastness, he is willing to be agreeable to a certain point.

“Everyone lies to get what they want.” – Semyon Sapir

Later that night, Katia is awake and lying in bed when an exasperated Semyon strikes up a conversation and invites her outside into the cold night air.  His intentions are ambiguous, his gold cigarette case remains in his coat pocket. They exchange pleasantries, he wants answers to life’s unimaginable perplexities but after a small kiss, Semyon invites her to get off the train with him at Zakopané and the now-infatuated Katia agrees.

Gary Imhoff, the director, does an impressive job with the actors, guiding them with a precision one rarely sees in a 99-seat venue.  Certainly, the characters, all of them, have their good sides as well as their bad. Defining the line so the characters do not come off as insidious is a trick well played.  But, is there more to be had with the sinister underlying intentions that have yet to be spell out?  The scene between Dr. Gruenbaum and Semyon Sapir needs a stronger conflict to move the play. Also needed is a way to use the gold cigarette case in the second act.   One believes there is more room to shore up the play and that the actors will warm into the roles with a little more nuance as the run continues.

Tanna Frederick is impressive as Katia Wampusyk providing warmth and humor to the role. Katia doesn’t respond to her love interest until later in the play, possibly because of the alcohol and really is unaware that her anti-Semitic remarks have any kind of effect.  She appears not to take notice while the others are obviously affected. Also, she gets off the train with a complete stranger when the matters of love may not be fully complete.  Can love be that blind? A stronger definition of the relationship, the need and the want to get off the train, even though she is infatuated and blinded by love, would only add to this terrific performance.  Frederick is a superb actor who gets a lot of mileage out of every single moment.

Mike Falkow, as Semyon Sapir, has a tremendous presence on stage.  Semyon appears to have a motive “to get even” which makes him sinister if that is indeed the case. Still, even though this appears to be a weekend fling, he must find ways to be infatuated with her and maybe even love her. Why does he seduce her off the train if getting even was his main motivation? Also, as a source of amusement, Sapir must be master of buying dresses for women – off the rack – and a perfect fit!  The gold cigarette holder plays an important part but hardly used after one mention. Falkow is impressive on stage, slightly understated in manner, and brings the rich dramatic history of his prison time and the communist part of the character to life.

Stephen Howard is impressive as Father Alexandrov, a Catholic priest who is not bemused by the passenger’s aggressiveness against one another’s faith. He takes everything in stride, letting every shade play out, with only a snarl – perhaps due to the alcohol.  Alexandrov seems shocked by Nadia Selmeczy’s revelation, but one thinks it’s a better choice if the character (given his life’s experience) knows everyone’s religious affiliation from the beginning of their meeting.  And, to use a boxing analogy, this character would be thrilled to have ringside seats to a boxing match he could truly enjoy.  

Cathy Arden movingly plays MME. Nadia Selmeczy, an actress. But aside from the glitzy costume and her manner of presentation and despite the fact that she has been out of the business for some time, there is more to this character.  Once a star, always a star, and findings ways to make that impression on the train in front of a captive audience would only help an already delightful performance.

Kelly DeSarla is exquisite as Marousia Petronko, a friend to Katia Wampusyk. Petronko is attractive, worldly, and able to size up a rashly scandalous relationship in a scrupulous heartbeat. DeSarla gives the character a fantastic and humorous life while bringing in the rich history of the character. It is a fantastic performance and one not to miss.  

Jeff Elam plays Dr. Nahum Gruenbaum, a doctor who has been hiding as a gentile in order to move up the social and economical ladder. He gives advice and explains his reasons for hiding. Elam is impressive in this performance but there is a question regarding the conflict of his scene with his counterpart and newly made friend. Does it go far enough and is it specific enough?

Henry Jaglom has written a fantastic play that one needs to see more than once to get all there is to enjoy.  Overall, this is an engaging night of theatre and a theatrical event one should not miss.

Chris Stone is the Set Designer and the art deco train was impressive but looking similar to the American high speed Milwaukee Road Class A – 1935 nevertheless I enjoyed the train immensely, the various compartments, and including the sleeping compartments.  The second act, the town of Zakopané, was extremely expansive taking the entire stage when a more intimate setting seemed appropriate.

Alexandra Guarnieri served as the Producer of the show and has done another incredible job!

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Teferi Seifu – Stage Manager
Yusuke Matsuda – Asst. Stage Manager
Roxanne Lecrivain – Property Master
Philip Sokoloff – Publicist
Juliette Klancher – Lighting designer
Shayna Frederick – Costume Designer
Maryne Daavid – Scenic Artist
Daniel Robertson – Front of House
Pete Hickok – Master Carpenter
Kitty Reddy – Assistant Wardrobe

Run!  Run!  Run!  And take a traveler with you who loves intrigue.

Reservations:  310-392-7327

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