Henry Jaglom's “Train to Zakopané,” premiering at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, is based on an incident in the life of his father: a rich, complex, heartbreaking story of doomed lovers in Poland between the wars.
The script could stand a vigorous pruning, several performances are still wobbly and the set changes are noticeably time-consuming — yet this production, directed by Gary Imhoff, has promise.
For the record
Jan. 13, 2015, 12:57 p.m.: An earlier version of this review miscredited the photo to Ron Vignone. The photo was taken by Tristan Baur.
The story begins on a train from Warsaw in 1928 (a detailed, cumbersome set by Chris Stone). A priest (Stephen Howard), a retired actress (Cathy Arden) and a young army nurse (Tanna Frederick) invite a young man from the crowded corridor to take the empty seat in their compartment.
Dashing in his double-breasted suit, the stranger, Semyon Sapir (Mike Falkow), proves a wonderful raconteur. He was born in Russia, escaped a Bolshevik prison and has become a well-to-do businessman.
His delighted new acquaintances have no idea that Semyon is Jewish — although the audience does, because he has announced it to us under a spotlight.
It’s the first of several moments when Jaglom, a respected filmmaker as well as a playwright, spells things out unnecessarily. We could have gotten the same information from Semyon’s tormented expression when the young nurse, Katia, cheerfully delivers an anti-Semitic rant.
Should Semyon confess that he’s Jewish, and risk losing his comfortable berth? Instead, he conceals his identity and sets out to woo the innocent Katia, eventually persuading her to get off the train with him at the resort town of Zakopané, where, many hints foretell, a dreadful revelation awaits.
Falkow makes this seduction at once mysterious and sweet, and he suits the role in every respect but one: his South African accent, inexplicable for a Russian Jew in 1928. Although I found it distracting, I was able to forge an uneasy peace with it.
Similarly, Frederick’s delivery at first struck me as anachronistically casual, but her radiance and emotional transparency eventually won me over.
After intermission extended by a complicated set change, the second act threatens to outstay its welcome. Two extraneous characters are brought in (played by Kelly DeSarla and Jeff Elam), and the dialogue, heavy with suspense, also grows repetitive; perfectly relatable emotions are explained at length.
Even so, the couple’s Zakopané idyll, against a gorgeous, painterly backdrop, has a dreamlike quality, and anybody who enjoys a good weep will succumb to the tragic thrill of their star-crossed romance.
“Train to Zakopané,” Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 29. $34.99. (310) 392-7327 or www.edgemarcenter.org. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.