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Theater review: 'Just 45 Minutes From Broadway' at Edgemar Center for the Arts

October 22, 2009 |  4:15 pm

45minutes.300 Henry Jaglom's new play feels awfully familiar. First there's its title, "Just 45 Minutes From Broadway," which all but sets you to whistling the George M. Cohan song containing that jaunty phrase. Then there's the story, about a free-spirited theater family much like the one in Noel Coward's "Hay Fever." When one family member attempts to break free to a "normal" life, a still deeper sense of déjà vu sets in, for this, of course, is the gist of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's "You Can't Take It With You."  

Like his distinguished predecessors, Jaglom -- the filmmaker behind "Eating" and a number of entertainment-world stories, including "Last Summer in the Hamptons" -- embraces both the folly and the heroism of his characters. But that's where similarities end, for this story, presented by Jaglom's Rainbow Theatre Company, musters a mere smidgen of off-the-cuff psychology before heading toward a calculatedly eye-misting resolution.  

Aging husband and wife actors (Jack Heller as the cranky-cuddly father, Diane Salinger as the airy-fairy mother) live outside New York City in a rambling, memorabilia-strewn home that glows with nostalgia and romance (set and lights by Joel Daavid). 

A visit by older daughter Betsy (Julie Davis), with her fiancé (David Garver) in tow, quickly devolves into longstanding quarrels with her sister, Pandora (Tanna Frederick, Jaglom's current leading lady of choice). Starchy Betsy disdains the family business; extravagantly emotional Pandora embraces it. Aha. They're archetypes representing the eternal war between brain and heart -- between what's safe but perhaps boring and what's gratifying but possibly risky. 

To glean even this much, however, theatergoers must sit through lengthy dialogue tangents and contrived story developments. In their boredom, they have time to wonder why director Gary Imhoff and a promising cast (including David Proval of "The Sopranos") opted for an acting style so heightened that it doesn't feel genuine even among these flamboyant theater folk. This is a story about creativity, yet that's where it falls short.

-- Daryl H. Miller

"Just 45 Minutes From Broadway," Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 20. $25. (310) 392-7327 or Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Photo: David Garver and Tanna Frederick. Photo credit: Ed Krieger.