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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Since Jenny Schwartz is a playwright with a penchant for word play which is of particular interest to yours truly as the author of two books about figures of speech, I looked forward to her first play in six years. To heighten my anticipation, Anne Kauffman who directed God's Ear was also helming Somewhere Fun, and the cast was headed by Kate Mulgrew and the wonderful Kathleen Chalfant and featured several other actors whose work I've admired.
Somewhere Fun begins promisingly enough, giving every indication of living up to its title. We see Rosemary (Mulgrew) and Evelyn (Chalfant), the two women of a certain age who are at the play's center, literally bump into one another on New York's Madison Avenue during a stormy fall day. Marsha Ginsberg has set the scene clearly but abstractly enough to allow for fluid time and place shifts, and sound designer Daniel Kluger has created a fine gusty storm.
Chalfant's Evelyn is in a wheelchair that's being pushed by her aide (a smartly understated Maria Elena Ramirez, last seen as Andrew Jackson's wife in Bloody, Bloody Andrews Jackson ) whose name is Lolita. Expect literary references to fall like that wind driven rain for the next 2 hours. But don't expect this happenstance meeting of women who first met "a hundred thousand years ago" in Central Park when their children were barely born to unfold as a nostalgic exchange about the paths their lives have taken.
Oh, sure, we learn quite a bit about these women and their now grown children and marriages. But Jenny Schwartz is a playwright who tends not to tell her stories in a linear fashion or have her characters speak in a "normally" punctuated manner and deliver her dialogue in a fractured rather than "normally" punctuated manner. She's also inclined to let things turn from real to surreal.
Sure enough, after Rosemary bumps into her old pal's wheelchair, she bursts out in a fractured babble that, to this viewer anyway, seemed not only confusing but to go on forever. But I remained hopeful that despite my being more confused than smitten, that Somewhere Fun would grow on me as God's Ear eventually did on Jenny Sandman, our reviewer of that play.
Things got a bit clearer during Rosemary's lunch with Cecilia (a terrific Mary Shultz), who's not quite as much of an over the top, speed talker like Rosemary. Cecelia is a widow with more of a modern mindset: to wit, her proud display of her smart phone and announcement that she's met a man in an internet chat room.
After the meeting on Madison Avenue turns into Mulgrew's manic rant, and then her restaurant meeting with the merry widow Cecilia, things move from realism with a surreal feel to actual surrealism. You see Rosemary melts, really! That mind boggling meltdown leaves only a skull.
Obviously, you have to see all this to believe it, let alone make sense of it. I therefore won't burden you with any more details except to tell you that somehow, by the you get to the third act, which is Chalfant's showcase and the best part of the play, you somehow realize that there's a reason Evelyn and Rosemary met when they did. Their coming face to face with each other seems to symbolize their facing the joys and regrets experienced during that 35-year blank in their friendship, as well as the terrors of a world that's racing forward so fast that, unlike Cecilia, they can't even try to keep up.
None of this is spelled out so your guess as to what it all means is as good as mine. The actors used to help you fill in all the odd doings include Greg Keller, who played the waiter during Rosemary's lunch with Cecilia and then metamorphoses into her son Bnjamin; Brooke Bloom as Evelyn's daughter Beatrice (also various minor characters); Richard Bekins as the voice summing forth the young Benjamin and Beatrice (Griffin Birney and Makenna Ballard) now the grandchildren and in the last act the rather catatonic TArmstrong, who Evelyn repeatedly tells us was the younger man from the wrong side of the tracks she never should have married.
I wish I could say that, like Jenny Sandman, my trying to make sense of what I was seeing at some point turned to really liking it all and in the end being convinced it was a stroke of genius. This did seem to be the case for some audience members, but I'm afraid it never happened for me.