JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY
By Henry Jaglom
Edgemar Center For The Arts, in Santa Monica
When the highlight of a stage production is the set and when the reaction of everyone around you is, “Well, the set, at least, is wonderful!” it’s pretty clear that something is amiss.
In the case of “Just 45 Minutes From Broadway”, Henry Jaglom’s new comedy, the problem is not with the actors, most of whom are up to the task of handling an over-written comedy that is too long by at least a half hour. Unfortunately, however, two of the characters are so annoying that it is difficult to see past the roles and appreciate the actors portraying them.
Tanna Frederick, in the purported lead (this really is an ensemble cast, folks), is talented,charming, and for the most part, very funny. Her character, Pandora, is a neurotic, over-the-top nut job, whose incessant crying and whining start to wear very thin about twenty minutes into the story. Panda, as she is called by her eccentric family, is the youngest daughter in a typical household of second-rate thespians. Oh, yes, we’ve seen these people before in far better plays: The goofy-but-endearing gypsyish mother (Karen Black) and the befuddled father (Jack Heller) living on past glories of the Yiddish theater. Panda still lives at home with her beloved parents, an uncle (David Proval, almost unrecognizable from his “Sopranos” days) who dotes on them, and a delightfully silly renter (Harriet Schock, a pick-me-up whenever she’s on stage), who seems to be harboring “feelings” for…someone in the group.
As the play opens, Panda is reeling from her latest breakup and dreading (with good reason) the arrival of her older sister, played with unrelenting bad humor by Julie Davis. Betsy is the only member of the family to have escaped into the real world and she detests the theatrical environment in which she was raised. Now in her late 30s, she arrives with her fiancé, Jimmy, to introduce him to everyone and what a mistake that turns out to be. David Garver as Jimmy is a true find: A tall, blandly good-looking man who provides one of the sexiest, most romantic seductions we’ve seen in years. He is the only one in the piece that seems to be a real, flesh-and-blood human being and is someone with whom you wouldn’t mind sharing a glass of wine or more.
We aren’t sure if Julie Davis’ portrayal of super-bitch Betsy was meant to be so one-note – meaning if it was written that way or if Ms. Davis was directed that way – but we suspect that there is a good actress lurking beneath. Too bad she isn’t allowed to show us just how good, because as played, Betsy is hateful, with virtually no redeeming qualities.
This is one of those productions in which there are a number of fine performances (Ms. Black should thank director Gary Imhoff for leading her through one of the most grounded, normal characters she has ever played – and she is marvelous throughout), but as a whole, the play is rather ordinary and forgettable. If someone could get Panda to stop crying and Betsy to stop bitching, thereby shortening the play by at least twenty minutes, there might just be something better to talk about on the ride home than…Joel Daavid’s truly wondrous set.
– K. Malone