“Somewhere” Makes East Coast Premiere in Hartford

By Tom Holehan

One part “Glass Menagerie”, a dash of “Gypsy” and a dollop of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” all set to a Latin beat. What a theatrical hodgepodge of plays Matthew Lopez’s new family drama is! It’s called “Somewhere” and is currently making its East Coast premiere at Hartford Stage. If nothing else, it will certainly serve to remind you of better, more developed plays.

Written by Mr. Lopez for his aunt, Broadway legend Priscilla Lopez (“A Chorus Line”), “Somewhere” is set in New York City over a two-year period from 1959-60. The down-on-their-luck Candelaria family resides in a shabby housing development where Inez (Lopez) is the only parent on the premises. Her oldest son, Alejandro (Michael Rosen,) has become the man of the family whose personal dreams of becoming a Broadway dancer have been sidelined in lieu of helping the family. They include kid brother Francisco (Zachary Infante), who dreams of being the next Brando and ballet-dancer-to-be Rebecca (Jessica Naimy). The Candelaria family has lots of dreams. Dreams are a big part of this play and you know that because the word “dream” must be utilized at least 40 times in the first act alone!

As the play begins narrator Alejandro is on a fire escape (the “Menagerie” reference) telling us about this “incubator of dreams” he grew up in. His mother, who works as a theatre usher, arrives home talking about the latest hit musical, “West Side Story”, and how both Alejandro and Rebecca must audition for roles. She may not be much of a mother but, like Mama Rose from “Gypsy”, she’s pushing her kids into the limelight whether they like it or not. Alejandro has more serious concerns. Their building is set to be demolished but Inez won’t hear of it. In denial, she will make all their dreams come true come hell or wreaking ball.

“Somewhere” takes time for each character to go off into personal flights of fancy via dance (the fine choreography is by Greg Graham) and this family drama often seems like a musical just kicking to get out and strut its stuff. Director Giovanna Sardelli has also pushed her cast to musical comedy extremes. This is the school of loud acting and major gestures. Lopez slaps her hands together with a thunderous clap numerous times throughout the evening. Infante’s Francisco, in the play’s most annoying performance, is continually frantic and overwrought reminiscent of a young Jerry Lewis without the subtlety. With the exception of Lopez, whose broad theatricality at least seems grounded in some sort of reality, the rest of the cast are surprisingly mediocre. One assumes the majority of the actors were cast for their dancing abilities first, acting second.

“Somewhere” is not without its charms and Lopez’s poignant monologue about how she met her husband is one of the play’s rare quiet moments (it might also make savvy theatergoers recall Linda Lavin’s better written speech about dancing with George Raft in “Brighton Beach Memoirs”). But playwright Lopez piles on the clich├ęs with familiar plot developments that say nothing original or new about this particular family and do little to propel the story forward. It all leads to a baffling, elaborately choreographed finale that has Alejandro climbing a fire escape that leads to a clothesline full of pastel-colored clothes. A stairway to heaven? Not quite.

Still, I may be a voice in the wilderness. The audience I caught the show with last week were on their feet at curtain and Hartford Stage clearly has one big crowd-pleaser on its hands. Good for them.

“Somewhere” continues at Hartford Stage through May 4. For ticket reservations call 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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