Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Old Globe

Priscilla Lopez, Jon Rua, Benita Robledo and Juan Javier Cardenas
Playwright Matthew Lopez has a knack for unusual and thought-provoking combinations of dramatic elements. His play, The Whipping Man, seen in various locations around the U.S. prior to opening in New York earlier this year, was set in the Civil War days between Lee's surrender at Appomattox and Lincoln's assassination, and featured former slaves who had been raised as Jews. Mr. Lopez's new play, Somewhere, whose world premiere production continues at the Old Globe's White Theatre through October 30, features a show-tune-loving Puerto Rican family in the late 1950s who are among those displaced by urban planner Robert Moses for the construction of Lincoln Center. Full of vivid characters and references to theatre and films, Mr. Lopez's play needs only a bit of focus and trimming before it is ready for a wider audience.

The Candelaria family is one of the last remaining in a tenement building on West 66th Street in Manhattan. They are barely scraping by, but each member is pursuing a show business dream. Brother Francisco (Juan Javier Cardenas) wants to be an actor, sister Rebecca (Benita Robledo) has been developing nicely as a dancer, and even mother Inez (Priscilla Lopez) sings in a third-rate night club and gets her Broadway fix by working as a volunteer usher (though, her pistol-like temperament has gotten her banned for life from one theatre). Alejandro (Jon Rua), the responsible one who has taken a full-time job to provide support, has been writing a play on the side. Alejandro may be the most talented one of the family, as he appeared on Broadway as a child, but he seems determined to facilitate everyone else's dreams and put his own aside. Though Inez believes she can stave off the family's impending relocation through sheer force of will, the wrecking ball literally forces them to flee.

Settling in one of the ubiquitous public housing projects in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, the family feels at sea. The area is far enough away from Manhattan to make everyone's show business plans seem distant. A visit from Alejandro's friend, Jamie Macrae (Leo Ash Evens), provides some measure of hope, though. Jamie has landed a job as Jerome Robbins' assistant for the film version of West Side Story, and he can get the family close to the action by casting them as extras in the film. As events unfold and family members confront the differences between fantasy and reality in their lives, some members find encouragement and others do not.

Mr. Lopez has a clear connection to his own family on display in Somewhere. His father, named Francisco, and his father's siblings hung out where the prologue of West Side Story was being shot, hoping to be used as extras (his father is clearly visible in one shot). Among those siblings was Mr. Lopez's aunt, Priscilla, who would later rise to stardom as Diana Morales in A Chorus Line, win a Tony award for A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, and, of course, play a series of mothers, including Inez in Somewhere.

So, Mr. Lopez comes from a show business family, and Somewhere shows it. There are many clever references which theatre insiders and fans can relish, as well as stories about legends such as Ethel Merman, Jerome Robbins and Marlin Brando. There are also some cute references to Inez's sworn enemy, ironically named Mrs. Lopez, who lives below and hates all the dancing going on upstairs.

Audiences can also resonate with the semi-fictional characters on stage, though I think that the connections could be sharpened as the play moves toward what I see as an inevitable New York production. The family members have emotional arcs to traverse during the course of the play, but I wish that those arcs were stronger and better foreshadowed. Francisco, who admires Brando to the point of imitating his behavior, ends up playing lot like "Drama" on the television series Entourage, the older brother who hangs out with his more talented younger brother hoping that some of that talent will rub off. Rebecca is mainly in the background until later in the story, and we need to see more of her struggle so that her arc will make better sense. Alejandro garners the most audience sympathy, but he is so selfless that it is hard to believe he's actually talented until he performs a solo dance number (to choreography by Greg Graham). Even Inez is stuck in her pistol stereotype, particularly when her aim is turned inward. To her credit, Ms. Lopez does her best to humanize her character (who, apparently, is based on her own mother).

The Old Globe does its best to make the play fit on the relatively small stage in its arena space, the White Theatre. Campbell Baird's scenic design and Lap Chi Chu's lighting create a number of playing areas that serve to focus audience attention. Jeremy J. Lee's sound design includes authentic replications of old records being played on a hi-fi system, and Charlotte Devaux's costumes are appropriate for the period though perhaps a little too nice looking, given the family's economic circumstances. Mr. Graham nicely squeezes his choreography into the small stage area, and Giovanna Sardelli (who also directed The Whipping Man) keeps the high-quality cast moving and the audience engaged, despite a few slow spots that could use some speed-up through script edits.

Somewhere, of course, refers to a song about place in West Side Story. The Candelaria family belonged on West 66th Street, and when they moved to Brownsville they had to work harder. Times were not in their favor, either, as Puerto Ricans were not always welcomed in New York. Still, there was a place for them, and through our contemporary lens we can look back on a struggle that is easier today but still resonates with the wrecking balls of the past.

Performs through October 30, 2011, at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre on the Old Globe campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets ($29 - $69, with discounts for students, seniors and those 29 and under) are available by calling 619-23-Globe (234-5623), or by visiting the Old Globe's online ticket site.

The Old Globe presents the world premiere of Somewhere, by Matthew Lopez. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli, with Campbell Baird (Scenic Design), Charlotte Devaux (Costume Design), Lap Chi Chu (Lighting Design), Jeremy J. Lee (Sound Design), Greg Graham (Choreographer) and Elizabeth Stephens (Stage Manager).

The cast includes Priscilla Lopez (Inez Candelaria), Juan Javier Cardenas (Francisco Candelaria), Leo Ash Evens (Jamie MacRae), Benita Robledo (Rebecca Candelaria) and Jon Rua (Alejandro Candelaria).

Photo: Henry DiRocco

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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