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Theater Review: Always – But Not Forever

A New Play by Henry Jaglom

 One could think of Henry Jaglom as a much less neurotic version of Woody Allen, as his material also deals intimately with the torments of the human condition without the familiar, overriding signature attached to so many of Allen’s earlier characters.        

Each voice of Jaglom’s characters is distinctive and separate as the playwright plows deeply into their inner lives, allowing us to see fully developed individual human beings struggling to find understanding of a particular set of, most often times, painful circumstances.  He is famous for creating solid, intelligent roles for women as seen in his other plays including Room 311 and A Safe Place, as well as in his memorable films Eating and Last Summer in the Hamptons.

Skillfully directed with a delicate touch by Gary Imhoff, Jaglom’s newest play, Always – But Not Forever, is a wonderful example of this talented playwright’s work.  Adapted from his 1985 film, and based on his own painful divorce, the playwright uses a play-within-a-play device to begin and end the story of Dinah (Tanna Frederick) and Jack (David O’Donnell) who, despite the fact they still love each other, are in the process of getting divorced.  Trying to comprehend why David has left her, at one point Dinah sobs, “I’d like to know what I did so I can undo it.” 

Dinah invites Jack over for dinner to both celebrate her birthday and to sign the divorce papers.  Although she also asks a notary to drop by to notarize the documents, she also plans a rather devious maneuver as a last ditch effort to convince Jack to stay with her.  When the notary (Michael Fairman) sees the loving dynamic between the two of them, he refuses to notarize the divorce papers, telling them, “If you feel the same on Monday, come to my office on Fairfax and I’ll notarize the papers for you.”

 Anyone who has ever sat in an attorney’s office with divorce papers ready to be signed will laugh with tears in their eyes as this beautifully written play, riddled with laugh lines, explores the depth of emotions these two characters are going through.  Jack’s theme song could easily be “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” but I’m doing it anyway, while Dinah’s could be “Just One More Chance.”

Tanna Frederick’s marvelously textured, nuanced, riveting tour-de-force performance as the tormented wife tears at your heart as we see her struggle to try to adjust to life without her Jack.  She begs, pleads, cajoles, seduces, and, in short, tries every conceivable approach to convince him to stay.  Although some of her actions could be labeled “manipulative,” it is clear that they come from the heart of a devastated woman desperate to have her life back the way it was.  David O’Donnell is a worthy match to her strong performance, as we watch his character go through his own doubts and torments.

The supporting cast of characters is delightful and includes the divorcing couple’s best friends visiting from Santa Barbara, Eddie and Lucy (Bryan Callen and Kelly DeSarla).  Callen’s very well done Eddie is a frustrated dad/husband who laments that he “hasn’t gone out in a year” and just wants to party for the weekend, giving much-needed comic relief amidst some of the heavier moments that run through the play.  Lucy is the perfect suburban wife/mother who, in summing up her life, says, “I have this baby that always says ‘me, me, me,’ and I have this man who always says ‘me, me, me.’ ”

The balance of the excellent cast consists of Samantha Sloyan who plays Jack’s free-spirited sister Peggy and Brent David Fraser who plays the very basic, rather innocent Maxwell, her born-again hippie guitar-playing boyfriend whose music helps make the scene changes quite seamless on Chris Stone’s very effective set.

It is such a pleasure to see a character-driven play with a superbly talented cast, no special effects, simple set and just plain good old-fashioned fine acting and story telling. 

Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main Street, 310.392.7327.  Always is $20 and runs through December 4. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Sundays.

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