'Somewhere'

There's a good play somewhere within "Somewhere," though not yet.

There’s a good play somewhere within “Somewhere,” though not yet. A Puerto Rican family’s embrace of Broadway tuners as an escape from harsh reality circa 1959 is an excellent premise, albeit one depending on harsh reality’s actually being depicted. This doesn’t happen much in Giovanna Sardelli’s world premiere Old Globe production. As always, the devil’s in the details, and too often scribe Matthew Lopez’s choices are baffling, lame or perverse in the extreme.

In outline, Lopez seems consciously to be aping “The Glass Menagerie.” Like the Wingfields of St. Louis, the Candelarias of West 66th St., Manhattan have been abandoned by dad, leaving overpossessive, delusional mom; a too-sensitive daughter; and a grumpy son mired in manual labor. There’s even a “gentleman caller,” a childhood friend now making it big in the Big Apple, plus an extra sibling whose dream is to be the next Brando.

The playing of the cast albums cheers everyone as they wait for Pop to redeem their perennial shortness of cash. (He’s supposedly been in California looking for work for two years now, though from the way they mourn his absence you’d think he’d been sent up in Sputnik.)

Yet unaccountably, Lopez goes out of his way to imbue these characters not with hopelessness but with energy and promise. As a result, all their problems ring spectacularly false.

Showbiz is no mirage in this household. Mama Inez (Priscilla Lopez) can really sing and dance, while Rebecca (Benita Robledo) has Broadway-ready stems. Grocery clerk Alejandro (Jon Rua) was a kid actor with Yul Brynner in “The King and I,” and can still go tap-for-tap with old pal Jamie (Leo Ash Evens), now working as Jerome Robbins’ assistant.

It isn’t clear whether Francisco (Juan Javier Cardenas) has any genuine gift when he re-creates “On the Waterfront,” but at least he’s attractive and spirited; actors have built careers on less.

In short, this is a family full of talent and fire, whom Lopez insists on portraying as calcified victims. Our impatience becomes almost incalculable as these self-pitying wheezers refuse to get on with life. Characters say “Nothing ever changes around here” on at least three separate occasions, but if it doesn’t, whose fault is that?

No real peril ever threatens the Candelarias. Even their imminent eviction to make way for Lincoln Center is a non-issue, as they’re being resettled in a better flat in Brooklyn. Yet Lopez has the nerve to keep pushing the buttons for poignancy, feebly playing the race card as a way to raise the stakes.

The supreme buzz-killer is Alejandro, every word out of whose mouth is “no” but whose congenital negativity is never adequately established. “Maybe we just can’t afford to dream anymore,” he muses in a typical burst of corny bringdown.

All you can do is shake your head at Lopez’s handling of this monumental killjoy, who concocts a letter-writing scheme tailor-made to ruin his mother’s life but is never called on it. Having penned a screenplay we’re led to believe has real potential to rescue the family, the lad tosses it out the window in a phony literary gesture reminiscent of a college freshman’s first short story.

Lap Chi Chu applies his lighting wizardry to periodic pink-toned fantasy sequences, in which the characters dance out their secret desires. Greg Graham’s choreography is first rate, and Charlotte Devaux’s costumes show keen awareness of the period’s fabrics and silhouettes.

But these interludes would play even stronger if they offered more of a contrast with the overdone, overacted “book scenes” surrounding them, and if the dreams depicted weren’t so obviously within the dreamers’ real-life grasp.

Somewhere

Sheryl and Harvey White Theater, San Diego; 285 seats; $69 top

Production

An Old Globe presentation of a play in two acts by Matthew Lopez. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli. Choreography, Greg Graham. Sets, Campbell Baird; costumes, Charlotte Devaux; lighting, Lap Chi Chu; sound, Jeremy J. Lee. Opened Sept. 29, 2011. Reviewed Oct. 1. Runs through Oct. 30. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Cast

Inez Candelaria - Priscilla Lopez
Alejandro Candelaria - Jon Rua
Francisco Candelaria - Juan Javier Cardenas
Rebecca Candelaria - Benita Robledo
Jamie MacRae - Leo Ash Evens

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