Nudging Recollections

They dance, sing, rehearse scenes, and breathe fantasies of Broadway.

Priscilla Lopez and Jon Rua in the Old Globe’s “dancical,” Somewhere
  • Priscilla Lopez and Jon Rua in the Old Globe’s “dancical,” Somewhere
  • Image by Henry DiRocco

The title of Matthew Lopez’s comedy-drama sounds unfinished. Hear Somewhere, and you expect “a place for us” to follow. And why not keep going: “Peace and quiet and oooo-pen air [kick it up!] WAITS for us [now so soft that it’s almost like praying]...somewhere.” And then you can scroll through Leonard Bernstein’s majestic score to West Side Story, as Jets and Sharks catapult across your mind’s eye.

You may find yourself doing just that during Somewhere, at the Old Globe, since the script feels sketchy and unfinished, and the filming of West Side Story looms in the background, nudging recollections.

The playwright’s aunt, Priscilla Lopez, was an extra in the film (she also played Diana and sang the original “What I Did for Love” in A Chorus Line). For two weeks in 1960, she and her brother watched Jerome Robbins direct dance sequences on New York’s West Side, on 67th and 68th streets, where Lincoln Center was under construction. Act One begins a year before. The Candelarias’ cramped apartment on West 66th will be part of the demolition.

The mother (played by Lopez), her daughter Rebecca (Benita Robledo), and son Francisco (Juan Javier Cardenas) dream huge. They dance, sing, rehearse scenes, and breathe fantasies of Broadway. The other son, Alejandro, even broke through. When he was 13 he danced in a show. But since the father left a year ago — allegedly for Los Angeles — Alejandro had to scrap his dream and work. While everyone else floats halfway to the clouds, he’s the no-nonsense realist. He even has to spoon-feed us the clunky line, “Maybe we can’t afford to dream no more.”

In Act One, the wrecking ball edges closer. Adamant Inez, the mother, stands in its way, as have so many other characters in the landlord-at-the-door theatrical cliché. Act Two, without the impending threat, has little to underpin it. It wanders, loses tension and drama. The answers are implicit in the questions it raises.

The plot is sitcom thin, the characters likewise. The lure of the piece comes in the interludes. You could call Somewhere a “dancical,” a play with dancing. The cast performs together and individually, as each has a solo that often reveals more about the character than the script. In fact, since everything else plays like a foregone conclusion, the only burning question that remains: they say Alejandro could have been a star (or, “a contenda,” as his brother claims, doing Brando). So, can Jon Rua, engaging throughout as Alejandro, trip the light fantastic?

They finally clear the set away, which is far too cramped for a “dancical,” and Rua cuts loose with an interpretive number — graceful spins and slo-mo glides — that exceeds expectations (his bio says he’s on the faculty of the Broadway Dance Center in New York...it shows).

The likable cast injects vitality into every scene — every moment, in fact, so much that there’s little build. The chipper intensity remains the same for two hours and 45 minutes.

The opening-night audience gave the curtain call a standing ovation. The cast, including Leo Ash Evens, earned it. But take away the dancing, choreographed by Greg Graham, take away the ebullient performances, and the script has holes the size of Lincoln Center. A cliché drives Act One; Act Two has no steering wheel. The thematic oppositions — dreams versus reality, stasis versus change, convenient fibs versus the truth — are timeworn. In Act One, the playwright suggests that the demolition had negative consequences as well as positive. But the second act erases that notion. The overall effect is a lively well-performed surface and airy nothing underneath.

In his book Theatre, David Mamet names the Great American Plays. His top six are, in order: Our Town, The Front Page, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Streetcar Named Desire, All My Sons, and Doubt. Mamet adds others (but excludes his own) and, except for John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, a Parable, all were written before 1970.

It’s tempting to parry and thrust: where’s O’Neill, or Tony Kushner, or August Wilson? But Mamet may be right about Doubt’s many-sided conundrum with devastating results.

The play begins in 1964. Self-assured Father Flynn talks about “the lone man stricken by a private calamity” in a sermon. Surely he means someone else. Then he lives “the isolation, the alienating sorrow” he talked about. Hyper-vigilant Sister Aloysius — is she perceptive or a moral loose cannon? — accuses Father Flynn of “handling” a young boy and goes on a witch-hunt.

The play lures you into taking sides based on stereotypes, among them sexually abusive priests and pre–Vatican II, mind-narrowing disciplinarians. But as Doubt proceeds, in SDSU’s fine production, clashing viewpoints cast doubts all around. In fact, every time you think you have a purchase on the truth, the play nudges you back toward its title.

In a way, the SDSU production feels like cheating, since the leads — Kevin Koppman-Gue (Father Flynn) and Sunny Smith (Sister Aloysius) — are veteran local actors and students on the mesa. Under C.J. Keith’s impressive, cut-to-the-core direction, the escalating emotions always ring true. Rachel Dexter (as confused Sister James) and Ivouma Okoro (Mrs. Muller, who also spins a stereotype on its ear) turn the stage into a game of four-handed ping-pong, without a net. ■

  • Somewhere, by Matthew Lopez
  • Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park
  • Directed by Giovanna Sardelli; cast: Jon Rua, Juan Javier Cardenas, Priscilla Lopez, Benita Robledo, Leo Ash Evens; scenic design, Campbell Baird; lighting, Lap Chi Chu; costumes, Charlotte Devaux; sound, Jeremy J. Lee
  • Playing through October 30: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.619-234-5623
  • Doubt a Parable, by John Patrick Shanley
  • San Diego State University, Experimental Theatre, College Area
  • Directed by C.J. Keith; cast: Kevin Koppman-Gue, Sunny Smith, Rachel Dexter, Ivouma Okoro, Ryan Granados, Kourtney Smith, Heather Whitney; scenic design, Justin Girard; costumes, Alana Anthony; lighting, Tabitha Wiebe; sound, Donald Sweetman
  • Playing through October 9; Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-594-6884

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