Also see Fred's review of The Other Place
Werle has created a downtrodden neighborhood, specifically San Juan Hill, which is comprised of apartment buildings soon to be demolished. We see many exteriors and one interior. Above the heads of those sitting in house seats about to watch the proceedings are various clothes lines and all sorts of garments hanging out to dryas if in waiting.
Inez Candelaria (Priscilla Lopez) is the family matriarch who ushers at Broadway theaters so she can watch West Side Story, The Music Man and many more. Her husband, an itinerant performer, is in Chicago trying to find work, attempting to support his family. In the meantime, his son Alejandro (Michael Rosen) is attempting to stand in for his father. As a 12 year old, Alejandro, who proves to be a lyrical dancer, was in The King and I which starred Yul Brynner. His wiry, animated brother Francisco (Zachary Infante) is a wannabe Marlon Brando actor. Jessica Naimy plays Rebecca, an impressionable teenager who desperately hopes to somehow land a part in West Side Story. This is a Puerto Rican family and Inez's favorite actress is, hands down, Chita Rivera. Also on the scene, after a short while, is Jamie (Cary Tedder), a young white man who grew up in the household. He, however, departed and now works for and with Jerome Robbins. Jamie has affection for the Candelaria brigade and comes back to coax Becca into auditioning. Robbins is to make the film version of West Side Story.
All too soon, the Lincoln Center complex will be created and many of those dwelling in rundown flats will be dispossessed. During the first act, it becomes apparent that the Candelarias must, with urgency, pack up and go, but Inez resists the notion.
Somewhere is, on a certain level, a wistful drama about those who dream on while reality forcibly threatens them. So, too, this could be seen as Alejandro's emotive storyone of maturation and strength. Finally, the play is warm and telling as it draws focus upon a tight and loving family desperate to survive.
Each one of Lopez's characters is recognizable. In fact, nothing in his plot is remarkably new. Still, the idea of tapping into a fictional family unit and composing dialogue which has an absolute ring of truth to it is not easy. To the actors' credit, the interface is genuine. It takes little to imagine them living within the confines of these rooms.
The performers dance upon occasion and in thrilling fashion at the end of the performance. Greg Graham's excellent choreography is detailed and enhances all. Giovanna Sardelli directs the production and she must vary pacing, accentuate many mood swings (running from ecstatic to despairing). Bill Sherman, known for his arrangements and orchestrations for In the Heights, has written original music for Somewhere. Costumer Amy Clark lends to the atmosphere by dressing everyone in period outfits perfectly in synch with summer months of the two acts: 1959 and 1960.
As Inez, Priscilla Lopez (real life aunt of the playwright) is heartfelt, caring, and even witty. (The actress played Morales in the original cast production of A Chorus Line and also appeared in In the Heights among other musicals.) Rosen, as Alejandro, is sweet and affecting, while Naimy breathes great joy into the optimistic, effervescent Rebecca. As Francisco, Infante maximizes comic moments given his preference for his anti-body-type: Marlon Brando.
Perhaps Somewhere is heavy on melodrama and even veers toward tried-and-true plotting. I say this is minor stuff and adds to the humanity of the entire experience. Lopez, who has mentioned elsewhere a moment in his aunt's acting career as pivotal to him, writes with soul and compassion. He sides with those who imagine what might be ... His play should be eagerly enjoyed for its tender, expressive essence.
Somewhere continues at Hartford Stage through May 4, 2014. For tickets, visit www.hartfordstage.org or call (860) 527-5151.
- Fred Sokol