Somewhere Intertwines Family Drama with Music
By Karen Isaacs
Matthew Lopez's new play, Somewhere, is getting its East Coast premiere in a fine production at Hartford Stage through May 4. But like many new plays, it is not yet a truly finished work.
The play is set on the West Side of New York City in 1959, just as urban renewal and the project to build Lincoln Center is tearing down the "tenements" that house many Puerto Ricans. On Broadway, the musical West Side Story is still going strong, providing recognition and pride to the residents of the area.
The Candelaria's are a Puerto Rican family with show business aspirations. The mother and three children live in a cramped apartment while the father tours the country as an entertainer sending home sporadic letters and money. The mother, Inez, works as an usher at the musical. The eldest son, Alejandro, helps support the family, but we learn he was a child performer in The King and I who has given up his dancing aspirations. His younger brother, Francisco, is taking acting classes, though it seems they are designed more to keep him out of trouble than nurture talent. And Rebecca, the sister, is truly the most dedicated to the idea of a career as a dancer and performer. She dreams of being in West Side Story. Also a part of the family, though the details are never truly explained, is Jamie -- a young man who apparently lived with them for some years and now is making his way as an assistant to Jerome Robbins.
The plot interweaves explosive and joyous dance with the "kitchen sink" drama of the family. A lot is happening. The father hasn't been heard from in quite a while -- no letters and no money. The family receives an eviction notice telling them they must vacate their apartment as entire blocks will be demolished to make way for Lincoln Center. Jamie reappears in their life after being out of touch. Rebecca auditions for a role in the show. In addition, Alejandro must confront his thwarted dreams of dancing -- he and Jamie performed together -- for the drudgery of a dead-end job that helps put food on the table.
But the real problem is that the mother refuses to accept the need to move. She is holding on to her version of the American dream or a fantasy: her husband returning and her children successful performers. The day to day reality of poverty and uncertainty she refuses to deal with.
There is much to like in this play. The performers are all strong from Priscilla Lopez, the original Morales in A Chorus Line and an aunt of the playwright, as the mother to Michael Rosen as Aledjandro, Zachary Infante as the young Francisco, Jessica Naimy as the teenage Rebecca and Cary Tedder as Jamie. They are strong actors and wonderful dancers. In fact, Rosen and Tedder performed in the recent West Side Story revival.
The set by Donyale Werle is evocative of the location. As you enter the theater you see the apartment, and hanging over you are clotheslines filled with clothing drying. Costume designer Amy Clark has captured both the period and the fantasy. In addition there is original music by Bill Sherman and choreography by Greg Graham which complements the strong direction of Giovanna Sardelli.
While at times joyous and serious, this play still needs work. Some problems are minor -- logical inconsistencies that distract you; such as the fact that while Inez is supposedly an usher in the theater West Side Story is playing, she only seems to work days and in fact has another evening job. Several other aspects of the plot are either equally implausible or, in the case of one that I will not reveal, rather obvious.
But perhaps the bigger problem is the memories this play brings to mind of another work about a son working in a dead-end job to help support his mother with a variety of fantasies and his sibling, in a family with a missing and unheard from father. That play, Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, seems more lyrical and believable.
The connection with Menagerie is accented in the opening scene of Somewhere when Alejandra addresses the audience directly from a fire escape. The reference is just too obvious to Tom's address to the audience in the Williams play.
But at its core, Somewhere is a touching and joyous piece of theater. The final dance number -- which is true fantasy -- will delight you and you will leave the theater smiling Make sure you get to Hartford Stage before May 4 to see this work by a very talented playwright. After all, I, along with Hartford Stage audiences, loved his play The Whipping Man.
Somewhere is at the Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church St, Hartford, through May 4. For tickets and information, call the box office at 860-527-5151 or visit www.HartfordStage.org.
This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers December 18, 2013 and online at Zip06.com.