Theater Review: I GO SOMEWHERE ELSE (Playwrights’ Arena at Atwater Village Theatre)

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by Samuel Garza Bernstein on August 27, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


“Don’t call me a liar,” a mother says. “But you lied,” responds her daughter simply. And all holy hell breaks loose. In I Go Somewhere Else from Playwrights’ Arena at the Atwater Village Theatre the “flat circle of time” gives life to the daughter at three ages, roughly 10, 30, and 50. She grapples with the complexities of mostly feeling “less than” with a mind that makes her seriously “more than” her mother—more intelligent, more empathetic, more curious, more loving. Family secrets are juggled as a full picture emerges. Her mother is a tragic, wonderful, beautiful, monster of self-absorption.

Playwright Inda Craig-Galván brings her characters to poetic yet full-blooded life. She loves them. Her work has the power of individuality as well as a broad, universal connection to what it means to be human. Whether lived, imagined, or a combination of both, the events here feel deeply personal.

Actresses Kita Grayson, Donna Simone Johnson, and Inger Tudor are not physically similar, but they are utterly believable as the same character at different ages, all battling literally and figuratively with mother Reda. Cheri Lynne VandenHeuvel is a marvel as Reda. She is nakedly emotional, by turns terrifying and pitiful, as well as physically commanding. It is a brilliant performance.

Reda has long sections of small talk that she uses to fill the space between her and her daughter. She yammers on about seemingly unrelated topics that all have a point of clear intersection: Herself. Everything is about what someone else thinks of her; what she said or did that impressed people; her piety and understanding of God that supersedes anything their pastor has to say; and the rigid control that is her lifeblood. She tries to control her daughter, but crucially, she also tries to control the past, especially when it crosses over into the present.

Her insistence on rewriting truth has devastating effects on her daughter, who learns that love is always conditional, and punishment lurks around every corner. Yet she cannot give herself over to her mother’s view of life. The “flat circle of time” is the place she goes, the “somewhere else” of the title, somewhere safe. The play is sad but hopeful. We are all miracles even when we are a collective mess.

Playwrights’ Arena artistic director Jon Lawrence Rivera directs the play boldly—refusing to shy away from the big emotional moments yet keeping them from tipping into pathos. In the limited stage area, set up in the round, he makes the space feel expansive, utilizing every inch of it. Scenic designer Austin Kottkamp, lighting designer Derek Jones, and sound designer Matt Richter create a unified experiential environment—unbound by naturalism. I am less enthusiastic about Lily Bartenstein’s projections design. Technically they are often blurry, but beyond that, they tend toward the literal—making them feel superfluous.

Promotional materials describe the show with a funny quip about Carrie, telekinesis, and Scott Baio. Clever. And I’m all for whatever works to bring people in. But don’t let the tongue-in-cheek silliness or Superstar ’70s title lettering fool you, this is the work of a deep, mature collaboration. Playwright, director, and each of the actors is at the top of their game.

photos courtesy of Playwrights’ Arena

I Go Somewhere Else
Playwrights’ Arena
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave.
Sat at 8; Sun at 4; Mon at 8
ends on September 17, 2018 remounts January 12-27, 2019
for tickets, call 800.838.3006 or visit Playwrights

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