Love him or loathe him, writer/director Henry Jaglom is nothing if not prolific. “Train to Zakopane,” is his third play at the Edgemar alone. In addition, the ever-controversial Jaglom has written and directed 20 feature films in a nearly five-decade career. And the longtime Santa Monica resident has, like Frank Sinatra, done it his way. (Outside the studio system.)

Over the years, Jaglom’s developed a considerable cult following but probably also as many critics. And yet I have a sneaking feeling Henry likes it that way.

Born in London but raised in New York, the eccentric Jaglom has been hailed as a cinematic genius but also described as an “egomaniacal fraud.”¬†¬†I once referred to him, half-jokingly (and half-serious), as a narcissist. He emailed back, “I think being a narcissist can be a good thing.”¬†¬†I responded in turn, “Spoken like a true narcissist.”

The list of Hollywood legends with whom Jaglom has worked includes Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper and Orson Welles. In fact, in the last years of Welles’ life Jaglom became perhaps his closest friend. In 1983 and with Welles’ permission, Jaglom taped their almost daily luncheon conversations at Ma Maison which are fascinating. Edited transcripts appear in Peter Biskin’s 2013 must read book for Welles’ fans,¬†¬†”My Lunches With Orson.” (Ought to be adapted into a movie starring Russell Crowe as Welles!)

Speaking of movies, as Woody Allen frequently collaborated with wife Mia Farrow and John Casavettes did the same with Gena Rowlands, Henry has made six films with Tanna Frederick who became his wife in 2013.¬†¬†The multi-talented Frederick was recently featured on the cover of “Westside People” magazine in a glamorous layout.

But in addition to acting, Frederick is a 2nd degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys running and surfing. She founded the non-profit Project Save Our Surf, which sends disadvantaged children to summer camps and installs freshwater wells in developing countries.

My main complaint with Jaglom’s movies is his relentless use of improvisation. It’s understandable because he trained with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York, where he acted, wrote and directed off-Broadway theater and cabaret before settling in Hollywood in the late 1960’s.

Granted when improv works it can yield brilliant moments in a film. But when I’m aware that actors are improvising the suspension of belief necessary for me to be enthralled in a movie immediately vanishes and it’s “Waiter, check please.”

But one needn’t worry about improvisation in Jaglom’s “Train to Zakopane.” Every word of the play is written as Henry penned it.¬†¬†It’s a gripping and true story of “hate and love” based on events that haunted his father for a lifetime.

In 1928 Mr. Jaglom was on a train crossing into Poland when anti-Semitism was rife throughout Europe. A successful Russian businessman, Henry’s father meets a captivating young nurse in the Polish army on the train. He’s faced with a life-changing dilemma when he discovers the nurse he is drawn to, and vice-versa, is fiercely anti-Semitic.

Will he reveal to her that he is Jewish? Will he move toward love or toward revenge? The actual train-ride across Poland, and the weekend stop-over in the resort town of Zakopané that followed, are the settings for the play, which is making its world premiere at Edgemar tonight.

In addition to Frederick and Fallow, it features Cathy Arden, Stephen Howard, Jeff Elan and Kelly DeSarla. It’s produced by Alexandra Guarnier and directed by Gary Imhoff. Due to popular demand “Zakopane” will run to March 29, 2015, with a brief hiatus from December 21 until January 8, when the Edgemar will be closed.

If he isn’t already, my guess is by the time you read this, Jaglom will be writing his next project.

 

Edgemar Center for the Arts is at 2437 Main Street. For tickets to “Train to Zakopane” call (310) 392-7327 or go to¬†http://www.EdgemarCenter.org¬†or¬†info@edgemar.org

Jack can be reached at jnsmdp@aol.com.

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