“Train to Zakopane: A true story of hate and love,” by Henry Jaglom, will have its World Premiere at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica beginning Nov. 7. The play is based upon true events that occurred in the life of Henry Jaglom’s father as he crossed Poland on a train in 1928 when anti-Semitism was rife in much of Europe, especially Poland. It is a compelling love story that explores the human condition in its darkest and most exquisite moments, laying bare how compassion and intolerance can, even in the most unusual of circumstances, be one and the same.
In Jaglom’s play, a successful, young, elegant and wealthy Russian businessman meets a captivating young Polish army nurse on a train trip to Warsaw. He is faced with a life-changing dilemma when he discovers that the nurse he is drawn to – and who is enchanted by him – is fiercely anti-Semitic. Will he reveal to her he is Jewish or go toward revenge? The actual train ride across Poland – and the weekend stop-over in the very elegant ski resort town of Zakopane that followed – haunted Henry Jaglom’s father for a lifetime as “his actions affected his heart, something he did not expect,” shared playwright Jaglom. “When you love someone you are committed to hate, life becomes an interesting dilemma.”
“I taped conversations with my father for 35 years. And even though he was a very private man, he really enjoyed telling me this story,” noted Jaglom. “But if he was alive today, he would be very mad at me for sharing his intimate true story about the one thing he regretting doing in his life. The fact is I think he would probably have a conniption fit when he found out I was sharing his private emotions night after night with strangers. On the other hand, I think he would have been underground proud whereas my mother would have loved it openly. But I had to tell it, my life being centered on my Jewish roots, wanting to share the story in the hope of teaching a lesson about how intolerance can ruin people’s lives.”
His wife, Tanna Frederick, stars as the nurse in “Train to Zakopane” and her co-star as the Russian businessman is Mike Falkow. The supporting cast features Jeff Elam, Cathy Arden, Stephen Howard and Kelly DeSarla, each of their characters based on the real people his father met on the train.
I last saw Tanna Frederick playing the plain farm girl Lizzie in “The Rainmaker” at the Edgemar Center, and before that as the title character dog in “Sylvia.” This role is such a vast departure from the sympathetic characters she has been known to play both onstage and in Jaglom’s independent films, I asked Tanna if she was concerned about how she may be perceived, playing such a hateful woman. “At first I was afraid I would never work in this town again, but I hope people know I am not that person, simply portraying a real person in a time when anti-Semitism was a fact of life in Eastern Europe. In fact, this has been the hardest role I have ever taken on, hating the character yet working so hard to bring her reality to life onstage. This is probably the most insane process I have ever been through in the best way, trying to show the humanity under the bigot. I understand the musicality of Henry’s lines, and as an actor I love the challenge it presents to me. And I thank my husband for writing such a brilliant play with me in mind for the role.”
Jaglom responded, “I lived with this story my whole life but never thought of it as play. Tanna was looking for another play and asked me to write one for her when we could not find anything that grabbed her attention or proved to be a challenge for her talents. I wrote “Train to Zakopane: A true story of hate and love,” when Tanna went off to the Iowa Film Festival, which she created in Mason City and is now in its eight year, and presented it to her upon her return.”
“And I loved it the instant I read it,” she remarked, glancing lovingly at her husband.
These two lovebirds met after Tanna wrote him a letter about his 1997 film “Déja Vu,” hoping to get his attention so she could meet him and hopefully appear in one of his films.
“After speaking with her on the phone for eight hours, I wanted to meet this woman who wrote such a beautiful and intelligent letter. I went to see Tanna in a show at the Tiffany Theater in Hollywood in which she was a chorus girl even though she was an awful dancer, but she owned the stage. I was instantly smitten with her stage aura and knew she was going to be a big star. It was show business love at first sight. And after working together for 12 years in movies and plays, I am now even more in love with Tanna since she became my wife.”
Jaglom and Frederick live and work in Santa Monica, loving the beach environment and small town feel. Jaglom lived in Hollywood for 30 years just above Chateau Marmont on the Sunset Strip. “It was great when I was single, but when I had kids the weekends were impossible. There was constant noise and throngs of people in my neighborhood at all hours. Film industry friends who lived in Malibu invited me to parties in their splendid homes, and I found being close to the ocean an idyllic place to live for the peace and quiet it afforded. I started looking for a home in Santa Monica and was lucky to find the perfect spot where I have lived ever since. And keeping it close to home, of the five plays I have written, this is the third to have its world premiere in Santa Monica at the Edgemar Center, starring my lovely wife and directed by Gary Imhoff.”
“My first play at the Edgemar with Gary was called ‘Always but Not Forever’ which I based on my real life break-up with my first wife. Then Gary directed my play ‘Just 45 Minutes from Broadway’ with Tanna starring in both those plays. I am very happy to be working with him again as he just gets me.”
“Gary gave the cast an image to think of as we are rehearsing Train to Zakopane telling us we are the peasant villagers dancing and celebrating our freedom just before the Frankenstein monster comes over the hill to destroy us,” shared Frederick. “That works very well for this play, given the time period in which it takes place.
Since Jaglom and Frederick have been quite a team in independent films as well as on the stage, I asked if there are plans to turn the play into a film, which Jaglom answered with a broad smile. Then Frederick commented, “I hope so, after the stage run.”
Jaglom added, “Given the time frame and expense, this would be a tremendous undertaking requiring the assistance of a major studio for period costumes and props, as well as requiring locations at a snowy, mountainous ski resort and on a time-appropriate train. I have to give some thought on how to accomplish all that before agreeing to take it on myself. But there has been such a good response to the script from the studios that I can safely say it probably will be made.”
We can only hope Jaglom decides to go ahead with the movie. Prejudice may be hidden but it always there, and its ramifications can last a lifetime. This story deserves to be seen by as many people as possible and shared with their families so when prejudice appears it can be recognized, dealt with, and lessons learned. For those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
“Train to Zakopane: A true story of hate and love,” a world premiere play by Henry Jaglom, opens Nov. 7-Dec. 14 the Edgemar Center for the Arts, on the Main Stage, located at 2437 Main St. in Santa Monica.
There will be two gala opening weekend performances on Nov. 7-Nov. 8. Runs through Sunday, Dec. 14. Show times are Thursdays to Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Sundays at 5 p.m. Dark on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27. Tickets are $34.99 with group discounts available. Call (310) 392-7327 for reservations or purchase tickets online at www. edgemarcenter.org.