BWW Reviews: Train to Zakopane: An Uncomfortable Ride to Destination Hate
As a loving homage to his father, Henry Jaglom wrote Train to Zakopane based on the tales his father told him of his times in Poland during the 1920s.
A successful arbitrator Semyon Sapir (the stand-in for Jaglom's father) gets the opportunity to share a cabin in a crowded train travelling to Warsaw. Seems the fourth person of this group didn't make the train in time. So, the alpha of this partial quartet, Father Alexandrov suggests they offer to share their spacious cabin with someone stuck in the overcrowded common cargo/baggage sections. Mme. Nadia Selmeczy, an actress of a certain age, readily agrees while the young, crocheting, unworldly Katia Wampusyk poo-poos the charitable gesture.
During the evening's conversation, Katia's hurtful anti-Semitic comments get spit out, first as a throw-away, then as a direct confrontation, accusation, factual statement of hate. Unbeknownst to the travelling trio, Semyon is a Jew and the direct target of Katia's venom. Semyon attempts to rationalize her statements to, as expected, no avail. What Katia sees, says, feels, thinks about Jews are absolute un-debatable facts.
The foreseen, foregone conclusion of heartbreak's inevitable for the two people of such different belief systems. Unfathomable to believe a man could fall in love with someone who hates him in generalities and then discovers a specific personal reason to justifiably return the "dislike." How sheltered and unaware the poor Katia is, as the significance of the only memento her father left her - his triangle ring - actually's the Nazi identifying symbol of shame.
Bravo to Tanna Frederick for tackling the totally unsympathetic role of Katia Wampusyk, the anti-Semitic nurse who falls in love with the stranger on the train Semyon Sapir, who just happens to be a Jew she can't smell right off. Frederick's Katia's so hateful, so ignorant, so unaware; Frederick succeeds in making it impossible to care, to be entertained, to be amused by her girlish flirtations with the man whose religion she detests. Mike Falkow inhabits his role of Semyon Sapir, the Jew who passes for gentile, who doesn't defend his beliefs, who falls in love with a hater of his religion. Able support from the rest of the cast include: Stephen Howard as the good-hearted priest Father Alexandrov, just a smidgen less anti-Semitic as Katia. Cathy Arden as the fading actress Mme. Nadia Selmeczy who sees through Semyon's charade. Kelly DeSarl's positively giddy as Marousia, Katia's conspiratory fellow nurse from years ago working at the Grand Sanitarium in Zakopane. Jeff Elam's solid as Dr. Nahum Gruenbaum, the wrong person to be giving Semyon advice of dealing with being Jewish in Poland in the 1920s.
No spoiler here, but Act One has the absolutely perfect ending to it - a very nice punctuation mark to the previous proceedings. Also, effective use of period music throughout to accentuate the time period ("Someone to Watch Over Me," "The Way You Look Tonight," and other recognizable classics).
Gary Imhoff directs Train to Zakopane at a pulsing pace interrupted frequently by the numerous set changes of Chris Stone's sleek interior train set and gorgeous Zakopane ski resort set with bedroom, dining room, gardened walkways. Maybe with more spotlight cues utilized by little used lighting designer Juliette Klander, the entire set would not need to be seen and changed as often in this two-and-a-half-hour world premiere.