by David A. Rosenberg
A fire escape. A young would-be artist with unfulfilled dreams. A mother with plans. An absentee father, existing only in a photograph. Frustrated siblings.
If you’re thinking “The Glass Menagerie,” you’d be right -- and wrong. No, this is not Tennessee William’s memory play but Matthew Lopez’s “Somewhere,” a warm and compelling drama that fits the mold of family frustration. On its own, the work, having its East Coast premiere at Hartford Stage, sends out sparks of recognition and has its share of charm and pathos. Yet it’s also a work that sprawls all over the place, unsure where to land.
The Candelaria family is in trouble. Trying to make their mark as Nuyoricans, mother Inez and sister Rebecca take in extra money by theater ushering. Jittery son Francisco wants to act but can’t keep a paying job. Suppressed son Alejandro, who appeared in “The King and I” as a youngster, works hard, cooks, pay bills and worries about the impending demolition of their apartment by the builders of Lincoln Center.
The time is 1959 and “West Side Story” is on Broadway, with its idealistic song about a better life “Somewhere.” Both Rebecca and Francisco dream of joining the show, seemingly made possible because their adopted brother, Jamie, is assistant to the musical’s choreographer, Jerome Robbins.
Illusory dreams permeate the evening, as they do many American plays. The struggling family reaching out to grab the American Dream ring is a staple formula, re-worked though not re-imagined by Lopez. The playwright sets up the characters but keeps them one-dimensional.
Of course, there is irony in building Lincoln Center, that monument to culture, on the backs of displaced persons. History will judge having to eject residents. Though the family is forced to move elsewhere, they keep their dreams alive, culminating in a lovely fantasy of success.
Much is admirable here, beginning with Giovanna Sardelli’s lively direction and Greg Graham’s choreography which teeters between professional aspirations and amateur accomplishments. As Inez, Tony winner Priscilla Lopez, in real life the playwright’s aunt, doesn’t forsake ebullient optimism even when she has to outrun the wrecking ball.
As Alejandro, Michael Rosen is adept at downplaying his dreams in favor of keeping the family together. When he finally bursts out, the joy is infectious. Zachary Infante is an overwrought Francisco, Jessica Naimy skillfully tracks Rebecca’s growth and Cary Tender is ingratiating as Jamie.
“Somewhere” succeeds in its depiction of a family held together by shared illusions. Now if it only took those next steps into more daring and insightful territory.