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Off-Broadway Review: “Miss You Like Hell” Redefines Redemption at the Public’s Newman Theater (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)

Photo: Gizel Jiménez, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Michael Mulheren, David Patrick Kelly in “Miss You Like Hell.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Miss You Like Hell” Redefines Redemption at the Public’s Newman Theater (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)
Book and Lyrics by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Music and Lyrics by Erin McKeown
Directed by Lear deBessonet
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After seeing her estranged daughter’s “veiled suicide threat” on her “anonymous” blog, Beatriz (the irrepressible Daphne Rubin-Vega) drives her truck “like a bat out of hell” from California to Philadelphia to take her daughter Olivia (the deeply reflective Gizel Jiménez) on a seven-day road trip. After some mild mid-adolescent protestations, Olivia – sixteen – agrees to the trip hoping, perhaps, for reconciliation with her mother and an end to her deep and debilitating angst and depression.

The road trip seems to go well until Beatriz’s motivation for the trip east is disclosed and the fragile trust between mother and daughter begins to crumble: Beatriz needs Olivia to testify for her in her upcoming immigration hearing for permanent residency. The problem: Beatriz has a has a criminal record – a misdemeanor from sixteen years ago, for marijuana, and she needs to convince the judge not to consider it in the determination of status.

Quiara Alegría Hudes’s characters are authentic and their multi-layered conflicts are believable and connect easily to the important issues of separation-individuation, parenting, conflict resolution, and the difficulty of attaining legal immigration status, including the risks of even exposing oneself to that daunting process. The plot and sub-plots driven by these conflicts are developed with care and extraordinary sensitivity by the authors of “Miss You Like Hell.” And the music and lyrics that support the touching story of Beatriz and Olivia are fresh, innovative and completely engaging.

There are eighteen original songs (two of them reprised) with powerful and emotionally engaging lyrics and music that cross several genres and provide deep insights into the characters and their individual and corporate struggles with self, other, and the world. Of interest are “Prayer (Lioness),” “Over My Shoulder,” “Bibliography,” “Now I’m Here,” “Dance with Me,” and the title song “Miss You Like Hell.” Both Ms. Rubin-Vega and Ms. Jiménez approach their numbers with impressive interpretive skills and the rare ability to tease from the music and lyrics nuance, subtlety, and ethos.

Lear Debessonet directs with a fluidity that allows her cast to discover the nuances of their characters and their relationships to one another. The members of the ensemble cast embrace their several characters with attention to believability and with measurable depth. Marinda Anderson (Lawyer), Andrew Christi (Motel Desk Guy), Shawna M. Hamic (Legal Clerk) and Marcus Paul James (Police Officer) also add their rich voices to the ensemble numbers. Riccardo Hernandez’s set design and Tyler Micoleau’s lighting design not only support the book, music, and lyrics; they also draw the members of the audience into the action to experience and take responsibility for what they see and hear.

“Miss You Like Hell” is more than a redemptive mother-daughter reunion drama. The new musical is a daring exploration of the meaning of family, the depth of commitment in relationships, and the importance of love during the anti-immigration, anti-immigrant sentiment extant in the current American political climate where isolationist foreign policy threatens the core of the nation’s values. This is an important work that exposes the dangers facing all who are outcasts and living on the margins of society – “castaways” like Olivia, Beatriz, Manuel (the salvific Danny Bolero), Pearl (the energetic Latoya Edwards), Mo (the devoted Michael Mulheren) and Higgins (the endearingly loyal David Patrick Kelly).

This story of a mother and daughter – both who have lost their ways and their centers – find their ways to break down all the walls that have separated them in the past and start over as “lioness” and “warrior.” The redemptive quality of Quiara Alegría Hudes’s and Erin McKeown’s musical is not grounded in sentimentality but in the strength derived from connection to culture and sexual status. This is a road trip not to be missed.

MISS YOU LIKE HELL

The complete cast for “Miss You Like Hell” includes Marinda Anderson (Ensemble), Danny Bolero (Manuel), Andrew Cristi (Ensemble), Latoya Edwards (Pearl), Shawna M. Hamic (Ensemble), Marcus Paul James (Ensemble), Gizel Jiménez (Olivia), David Patrick Kelly (Higgins), Michael Mulheren (Mo),
Daphne Rubin-Vega (Beatriz), and Martín Solá (Manuel Understudy).

“Miss You Like Hell” features scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez; costume design by Emilio Sosa; lighting design by Tyler Micoleau; sound design by Jessica Paz; and hair and makeup design by J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Miss You Like Hell” runs through Sunday, May 13. Public Theater Partner, Supporter, and Member tickets, as well as single tickets starting at $90.00, can be accessed now by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. (There is no 8:00 p.m. performance on Sunday, April 22 and Sunday, April 29). Running time is 100 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Gizel Jiménez, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Michael Mulheren, David Patrick Kelly in “Miss You Like Hell.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, April 19, 2018