By JEAN LOWERISON | Uptown News
Some people have trouble making connections. Others can’t seem to give them up.
Joe (Richard Rivera) and Roberta (Jody Catlin) sit in a church pew making snarky comments about the service. They are there for a funeral but are having trouble stifling their giggles.
They’re not kids: they’re in late middle age, and not religious. But when a hymn starts, Roberta seems somehow transformed.
Love, humor, and the hereafter are intertwined cleverly in Bekah Brunstetter’s charming “Going to a Place Where You Already Are,” playing through Feb. 16 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista.
The plot is simple enough: Joe and Roberta have been married a long time. Joe is utterly dependent on his wife, but Roberta has had those “is this all there is?” thoughts, which will come to a head when she is diagnosed with life-threatening lung tumors.
Joe wants her to sign up for any and all available treatments. But Roberta has seen a… what? A vision? In the form of an ageless being in white; could it be an angel? And she’s getting less interested in medicine all the time.
Besides, years ago Roberta lost a child and now she wonders whether there is the biblically promised “place for you in heaven.” Might she be reunited with Charlie?
Meanwhile, Joe’s workhorse granddaughter Ellie (Heather Warren) has come home with a new friend named Jonas (Miguel Góngora, Jr.); we see new possibilities for them in the form of a first roll in the hay.
Ellie is in the editing game, an often-frazzled sneak smoker who seems to need an attitude adjustment when she claims, “I do not have the luxury of free time.”
Jonas is a wheelchair-using charmer — a philosophical type who has learned to survive, even thrive with his disability. He argues to Ellie that “Time is an illusion.” Ellie begs to differ and mentions deadlines. But she is attracted to his attitude and seeks wisdom from Roberta.
“I feel like I’m wasting my time,” she says.
“There’s no such thing,” counters Roberta.
Hannah Logan directs this fascinating series of philosophical vignettes with a sure hand that keeps the snappy pace going for this 90-minute wonder.
She found the right cast. Catlin is earthy and nurturing as Roberta, who comes to feel that letting go isn’t the worst thing.
Rivera is totally convincing as Joe, whose fear at the thought of losing Roberta is almost palpable. Warren’s hurry-up Ellie contrasts nicely with Góngora’s take-it-easy Jonas.
Oh, yes. About that angel. Played with great panache by “gayngel” Patrick Mayuyu (he announces that he’s not straight), he seems to show up at just the right time. And this is one rockin’ angel: wait’ll you see him vamp to “All That Jazz!”
The tech crew does the show proud. Ron Logan’s simple set is easily reconfigured and features a church pew that becomes a couch.
Matt Warburton’s sound design and Quinn Schuster’s lighting make atmospheric transitions between the here and the beyond. Natalia Araiza’s costume designs are fine.
In a series of situations that are funny, awkward, touching, or sad, Brunstetter probes existential questions: What (if anything) really matters in life? How long is forever? And the jackpot question: Where are we going?
Don’t miss the chance to ponder such existential questions with Brunstetter and OnStage’s fine cast.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at email@example.com.