“I Go Somewhere Else”: A Great New American Play

A girl and her mother. What could be simpler?

Almost anything. To start with, in Inda Craig-Galván’s I Go Somewhere Else, the girl splits.

This isn’t the usual fragmenting of a personality, where “alters” form like defensive shells around a besieged child core. Instead, it’s as if that familiar question — “What would I tell my younger self?” — has come true.

With the girl in her room are two women who are intimately familiar with each other, and with her. They’re who she becomes, in her 20s and at 50. They’re also her “imaginary friends” — she consults them, and they tend her.

Donna Simone Johnson, Inger Tudor, Kita Grayson, Cheri Lynne VandenHeuval (photo: Playwrights’ Arena)

But when Mama enters the room, they withdraw into the shadows. That’s because mercurial, demanding Mama is the force they’re all contending with, and struggling to understand.

The play’s first half is an inventive, elegant, often funny, and deeply moving portrayal of a child’s breathless efforts to predict, placate, and survive an abusive parent. It stands among the best such portraits our literature has produced.

Then the story shifts, imperceptibly, from trying to deal with Mama to trying to understand her. “Mama,” seen from outside, shifts to “Reda,” seen from inside. And I Go Somewhere Else shifts from excellence to greatness.

Without abating the fierce storm of her madness, it takes us into the world where young Reda has come to grief. And we more than understand, we feel, wrenchingly. (We also sense, if only dimly, how we are accomplices in her undoing.)

I do not want to say more. I Go Somewhere Else is an artistic triumph,  one you deserve to experience firsthand.

I will say that this remarkable achievement in playwriting receives an equally remarkable production from Playwrights’ Arena. The spare minimalism of the set (Austin Kottkamp), the lighting (Derek Jones), and the subliminally powerful sound (Matt Richter) all focus attention on the actors (clad in Mylette Nora’s deftly chosen costumes).

And what actors these are! Kita Grayson (young Lanny), Donna Simone Johnson (20-something Langree), and Inger Tudor (50-year-old Tabitha) have each carried major shows. Here, they create distinctly etched versions of the same person, moving seamlessly from hand-jive to heartbreak and back.

They also make the world through which Mama/Reda moves like a tornado, stirring chaos everywhere and touching down with precise,   devastating force.

In Mama/Reda, Craig-Galván has written one of American theater’s great “terrible mother” roles, worthy to stand beside Glass Menagerie‘s Amanda and Gypsy‘s Mama Rose. And Cheri Lynne VandenHeuvel gives it a definitive performance, delivering every moment and nuance with almost superhuman range and power. Her achievement drew a leaping ovation, and made one patron sit down again, breathlessly asking, “What did we just see?”

As if all this were not enough, Craig-Galván also quietly interrogates the racially structured world this mother and daughter — and all the rest of us — must try to live in. (Kevin Coubal’s steady, accurate Cliff contributes effectively here.) No lectures, no villains; just facts, heartbreaking facts.

More than half a century ago, I was privileged to see Glass Menagerie and Gypsy when they were new. Seeing I Go Somewhere Else (now in its world-premiere run) is an equal gift. You owe it to yourself.
I Go Somewhere Else, by Inda Craig-Galván, directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera.
Presented by Playwrights’ Arena, at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., LA 90039.

Mondays and Saturdays at 8:00,
Sundays at 4:00,
through Sept. 17th.

Tickets: <www.playwrightsarena.org>