That Jenny Schwartz’s new play Somewhere Fun, like another joyfully-titled play opening just at the cusp of summer, Neil LaBute’s Reasons to Be Happy, fails to live up to the promise of its name is a shame. It begins promisingly enough, with a chance meeting between two old friends — wheelchair-bound Evelyn Armstrong (Kathleen Chalfont) and real estate VP Rosemary Rappaport (Kate Mulgrew) — who catch a glimpse of each other on Madison Avenue on a blustery day.
Though they just nearly miss connecting, we get snippets of memories from each about their associations with each other, told in the playwright’s vividly poetic voice. Schwartz has a sharp wit and a keen knack for whimsical dialogue, and the play’s first few scenes really shine.
Sadly, Schwartz’s dextrous wordplay is both one of the plays strengths (and certain what distinguishes it from the naturalism of many of her contemporaries (LaBute included) and its primary weakness. As Rosemary exchanges banter with her iPhone-coveting client, Cecilia (Mary Shultz), and Evelyn talks with her caretaker, Lolita (the fine Maria Elena Ramirez), we begin, in additional to appreciating the wit of the play’s dialogue, to realize just how homogeneous it all is. Too many characters are too witty too often for any of the wit to really land. What begins as a charmingly whimsical study of connections and near-misses quickly begins to wear on one’s patience. Fleeting references to Gone With the Wind, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Shakespeare, and other literary works pass by with a shrug. Several characters independently consider the near-homonyms “worrier” and “warrier,” rather banally.
With some exceptions (Ramirez’s Lolita, as well as some of the secondary characters, including a salty police officer, portrayed by Brooke Bloom), the characters’ voices here seem like one unified voice — presumably Schwartz’s — to the detriment of the play as a dramatic whole.
After our protagonists’ introduction, the second of the play’s three acts (yes, three) focuses on Rosemary’s liquification (yes, really) and her son Benjamin’s reaction. By the play’s third act, Evelyn, who’s suffering from cancer, is hospital-bound, surrounded by her loved ones as she nears her conclusion. The scope of Somewhere Fun is both intimate and broad. The set upon entering the theatre invokes Madison Avenue and, curiously since the subject never arises during the play, macaron shop Laduree. Once the setting shifts away from the street, however, Marsha Ginsberg’s curious set keeps the proceedings placed atop her street set, a choice that could have paid off thematically but which doesn’t quite.
Terrific performances from a game cast help to enliven the production even when they’re saddled with the most mind-numbing of Schwartz’s verbal gymnastics. Chalfant, in a role that occasionally echoes her character in Wit, is luminous and dignified, especially as pitted against Mulgrew’s blowsy Rosemary. The aforementioned Ramirez and Shultz, along with the rest of the supporting cast, do their best, but they can’t quite make Somewhere Fun into something fun, just something a little more tolerable.