Monday, June 17, 2013

32. Review of SOMEWHERE FUN (June 15, 2013)



The Vineyard Theatre, where SOMEWHERE FUN is playing, is definitely not what the title of this new play by Jenny Schwartz suggests. The actors may be having fun, especially veterans Kate Mulgrew, Kathleen Chalfant, and Mary Schultz, but for most audience members (admittedly, not all, if the occasional laughs are to be considered) even OEDIPUS REX might have been more amusing. At least it would have had characters you could identify with and understand, with language used for purposes of communication among the people on stage and with the audience. In Ms. Schwartz's surrealistic, absurdist world, language is used to demonstrate the impossibility of communication, but this devolves into a demonstration by the playwright of how cleverly she can handle it; despite the existence of mostly screwy characters and a sort of plot, none of it coheres long enough to keep you interested, especially when drawn out over three acts and nearly two and a half hours.

            The wonder is that the above-named actresses, and the rest of the mostly excellent cast as well, are so good at making their often nonsensical, elliptical, and topsy-turvy sentences seem grounded in some kind of inner reality. But once you catch on that very little of what is being said is spoken for anything other than the sake of its own cleverness, all the best acting in the world, and even the smartest directing (Anne Kauffman does her admirable best in this capacity) is not going to make it easier to sit through what becomes an endurance test of concentration. If you go, be sure to take double (or triple) your normal dose of No-Doze or whatever else you need to keep your eyelids open.

            Of course, the linguistic tomfoolery in a play like this must be balanced by symbolic behavior, most notably in SOMEWHERE FUN by the death of the logorrheic Upper East Side realtor Rosemary Rappaport (Ms. Mulgrew), who slowly melts to death before our eyes, ending in a puddle of black sludge and a skull that is treated by a policewoman (Brooke Bloom) as if it were any ordinary corpse (still, stagehands in biohazard suits are required to remove it).  This combination of tricky language and weird images reminds me of the plays of Eugene Ionesco; Ionesco, however, usually made his plays compellingly human, with definite stakes motivating the characters. Here one gives up trying to determine what those stakes are when it becomes clear there are none, or very vague ones.

            This is not to say the characters live in a vacuum. Rosemary is estranged from her son, Benjamin (Greg Keller), and her husband has run off with another woman; still, her never having heard of the Internet seems absurd even in an absurdist world. The aging, elegant socialite Evelyn Armstrong (Ms. Chalfant) is confined to a wheelchair and then a hospital bed because she is dying of cancer (an internal reference to the actress's performance some years back in WIT?), but any suffering we see plays second fiddle to her supercilious attitude toward those around her, her gibes often spoken to the baby in the womb of her caretaker, Lolita (Mary Elena Ramirez). She also has a daughter, Beatrice (Ms. Bloom), whose face was bitten off by a Dalmatian, but, thankfully, no attempt is made to suggest this with makeup. The white-haired Cecelia (Ms. Schultz) comes closest to seeming like a real person, with her computer literacy expressed through her use of an Iphone (a device totally alien to Rosemary) and success at finding a boyfriend via social media.

             I don’t mean to imply that Schwartz’s verbiage is all business and no play, since there are some really clever and even funny twists in the things her people say, especially early on. For example, there’s Evelyn’s crack: “Everything happens for a reason. With the exception of anal cancer.” And buried beneath the nonstop chatter are themes of loss, regret, suffering, and alienation. It’s just that once the conceit is established it has nowhere to go, and without consistently interesting characters speaking the lines and the semblance of a plot to make you care it’s very easy to begin regretting that theatre etiquette doesn’t permit you to check your smart phone to see if someone out there is saying something you really want to hear. Apart from the dextrous performances of Mulgrew, Chalfant, and Schultz, SOMEWHERE FUN, I must repeat, is not.