Kate Mulgrew and Kathleen Chalfant give bravura performances in Jenny Schwartz's challenging new work.
Sudden death by melting may not immediately be on the mind of self-absorbed realtor Rosemary Rappaport (Kate Mulgrew) after her chance meeting with old friend Evelyn Armstrong (Kathleen Chalfant). But as she natters on to preoccupied friend Cecelia (Mary Shultz), it's clear Rosemary is aware that her best days are behind her. She has been abandoned by both her husband and her grown son, Benjamin (Greg Keller), her fortunes are dwindling, and her business cards keep blowing away in the wind.
Evelyn's gloried past is also in the past, even if she refuses to let late-stage cancer prevent her from weekly nail-salon trips accompanied by her faithful nurse, Lolita (Maria Elena Ramirez). In fact, changing her nail polish shades every Friday seems to be what it is for which Evelyn keeps living — except maybe the chance to share witticisms with Lolita's unborn baby. As we later see, her husband, T (Richard Bekins), already considers her dead, and Evelyn treats her daughter, Beatrice (Brooke Bloom) — the one who lost her face — as invisible.
For all the bleakness in Schwartz's work there are plenty of laughs. What else can you do when the haughty Evelyn — now lying in a hospital bed — recalls answering a request of young Beatrice (Makenna Ballard) for a bedtime story with "Once upon a time there was a mother named Medea"? Or when an offstage singer croons "When your dreams turn to dust, vacuum, vacuum" while Cecelia cleans out her late mother's apartment?
Even during the play's less involving sequences, primarily those that focus mostly on Benjamin and Cecelia, it is impossible not to admire Schwartz's deft facility with wordplay, reminiscent of the great Edward Albee. Director Anne Kauffman handles the peculiar rhythms of many of the play's speeches with sensitivity and acuity — and guides strong performances from her supporting cast — most notably the delightful Shultz and the stalwart Ramirez.
Most of all, though, Somewhere Fun is a sterling showcase for two great actresses. Mulgrew handles Rosemary's breathless first-act arias with operatic skill. Equally impressive, she allows us to feel sympathy for Rosemary, even as she embraces her bitterness and lack of compassion. (Sadly, Mulgrew disappears after the first act until a brief reappearance in the third as Chalfant's doctor.) Chalfant, per usual, is consistently compelling and ultimately heartwrenching. True, there are shades of Wit's Vivian Bearing — Chalfant's most notable stage role — in both Evelyn's situation and intelligence, but this glorious performer creates another unique human being, one tinged with sorrow and sarcasm.
Theatergoers looking for non-challenging entertainment might be better off going elsewhere, but anyone willing to think — and feel — will be rewarded by experiencing Somewhere Fun.