Life is full of circles. Sometimes they’re a sense of connectedness that encircles and embraces us. Or maybe they’re behavior loops that we endlessly repeat. And there’s the biggie: advancing through the years until we’ve come full circle.
These cycles and more can be seen revolving through the emotionally fraught mother-daughter relationship depicted in “I Go Somewhere Else.” This inventive piece is a definite find for Playwrights’ Arena, which specializes in new work by L.A. writers. The specifics are rooted in a black mother’s internalized racism and her daughter’s resistance to it, but the day-to-day dynamics are typical of parent-child relationships everywhere. Anger and hurt give way to compassion in this autobiographical tale.
The show’s author, Inda Craig-Galván, is an actress-turned-playwright who, at 50, is accelerating into her new career. A transplanted Chicagoan, she earned an MFA from the University of Southern California just a year ago. “I Go Somewhere Else” is the first of her plays to receive a professional production, yet she already has a writing gig with the new ABC drama “The Rookie,” and another of her plays, “Black Super Hero Magic Mama,” is on the Geffen Playhouse schedule for the spring.
She begins this story in a lonely bedroom, where an 8-year-old girl recites a playground rhyme that serves as a sort of incantation, summoning her 35- and 50-year-old selves. Mama will be home at any moment, and the girl doesn’t want to face her alone. “She’s just always yelling about something,” the girl says.
The three ages coexist as past, present and future commingle. The air seems full of ghosts, yet humor helps to keep them at bay.
Mama, as portrayed by Cheri Lynne VandenHeuvel , is tall and regal — utterly arresting to begin with, and even more so because she’s always perfectly turned out in a dress and heels, her hair carefully coiffed. It’s almost as if she’s trying to be a Donna Reed type, which might not be far from the truth.
The audience feels as though it’s in the room with the characters, occupying just 46 seats on three sides of the playing area. The set is as much a psychological landscape as a physical one. As designed by Austin Kottkamp, it is spare and abstract, built of raw, hard wood. Projections by Lily Bartenstein fill in details: the posters on the girl’s bedroom walls or nightmare visions burned into her mind. Jon Lawrence Rivera directs with lyricism and grace.
Mama, prone to nonstop rushes of words, casually glorifies all that is white and, in what goes unsaid, disparages what, to her, seems too black. This could be like poison poured into the girl’s ear, but the youngster is too savvy for that.
As played by Kita Grayson at ages 8 and 13, she is a precocious youth who can’t help but question her mother’s ideas. This exasperates mama, who is forever trying to mold her daughter into a white girl. “Why does she look at me like that? Like I’m less than,” the girl finally asks in despair.
Donna Simone Johnson renders the 35-year-old self in a rebellious phase, and Inger Tudor captures the 50-year-old self at a time when she has mellowed, now able to see things in perspective.
Eventually we gain this perspective as well, as we witness how a proudly black woman — who once stood up for herself in no uncertain terms — was crushed by the system. In her warped way, she is trying to spare her daughter the same fate.
We hold our breath as we wait to see whether either can break the cycle.
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‘I Go Somewhere Else’
Where: Playwrights’ Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave.
When: 8 p.m. Saturdays and Mondays, 4 p.m. Sundays; ends Sept. 17
Info: (800) 838-3006, www.playwrightsarena.org
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes