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Arts and Entertainment

Theater Review: Just 45 Minutes From Broadway

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"Wow, you're really going all out!" my friend Kiel said, giving me the old once-over as we strolled down the Bavarian beer mug image that is Saturday night in downtown Santa Monica. "What do ya mean... I dress up sometimes, when the occasion calls for it," I argued, adjusting the safety pin on my pink polka dot dress and tripping over absolutely nothing at all in my brand-new vintage pumps. "Besides," I pleaded as I led the way into the stunning Edgemar building "My Grandma always said, it's the theatre, show some respect."

As we were shown to our seats I looked around the room at the (real) fur wearing ladies, their pocketbooks filled with heavy lip liner and stale peppermints. Kiel gave me the same knowing look he did when we sat down to see the new Coen Brothers' movie A Serious Man. The look this time was in anticipation of the Rainbow Theatre's world premiere of Just 45 Minutes from Broadway by dynamic filmmaker turned playwright Henry Jaglom. The play centers on the Isaacs, an eccentric modern day Jewish family of thespians that truly believe all the world's a stage. While the patriarch, George, was once a star of the Yiddish theatre, the family now lives an isolated life performing nightly for each other. The twist comes when the family's only "civilian", Betsy, brings her fiance home to meet the family, sending the family dynamics into a tailspin and causing the skeletons to pour out of every rustic closet.

"Oh honey, I love those shoes!" the woman seated to my right blurted out as I hesitantly powered off my Blackberry.

"Oh, thanks. Thank you. I'm Jessie!" I said, sticking out my hand even though every instinct in my body wanted to pinch her wrinkling, rose-colored cheeks.

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"I'm Harriet, and I used to wear those when I was a Pan Am Stewardess, 1945... those were fun those days." It was as if the play had already begun.

Seeing a play in such a movie town always heightens the performance. The internal dialogue begins running -- "This is so good for me, seeing real live theatre. I can't wait to talk about this at the water cooler Monday." etc. But there comes a point when the material, if enthralling enough, takes over and the experience gives way to experiencing. Because the characters in Just 45 Minutes from Broadway are all playing actors, you feel like you're seeing a double feature for the price of one. It's as if every member of the Isaacs family just got their childhood abandonment diagnosis, each one fighting harder than the last for your laughter and tears. While the cast proves consistently captivating, from the wounded baby of the family, Pandora (a stunning Tanna Frederick) to the lovable yet washed up Uncle Larry ( The Soprano's David Proval), I felt a little frustrated with the "boy who cried wolf" plot structure. I am a total sucker for family dysfunction as entertainment, but there is only so much space in any attic for the deep dark secrets to hide. If you do find yourself spacing out a little -- not to worry. Leo in the front row will most likely be repeating the lines for his deaf wife followed by his personal commentary of each scene.

Although the dysfunctional family paradigm crosses over any time period, 45 Minutes feels very much a play of the moment. The authentic set and lighting design is both quaint and cozy, yet the presence of Mac computers and video tape as vintage props (ah!) reinforces the juxtaposition of the old world theatre with the new.

Just 45 Minutes from Broadway is a refreshing take on the traditional "Oh my G-d this family's fucked, but aren't they all?" genre. Jaglom matches every crisis with equal humor, reminding us that in life, the saddest things are also the funniest. While you may see glimpses of your own family's dynamics within the Issacs there is still enough distance for you to take it all in while poking fun at the dysfunction (just don't do it at the theatres' nearby Urth Cafe -- 13 bucks for a turkey sandwich? Really?)

As the theatre lights came up I head the familiar voice of Harriet the stewardess -- "Lovely, just a lovely evening", I dare you to challenge that.

Just 45 Minutes from Broadway has been extended until the end of March. For ticket info click here!

Review by Jessie Kahnweiler

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