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Miss You Like Hell
Book & lyrics by Quiara Alegría Hudes; music & lyrics by Erin McKeown
Directed by Lear deBessonet
Performances through May 13, 2018
Gizel Jimenez and Daphne Rubin-Vega in Miss You Like Hell (photo: Joan Marcus)
Miss You Like Hell is easy to root for, dramatizing as it does one illegal immigrant’s experience in today’s America. But this musical about the cross-country road trip undertaken by a teenage girl and her estranged mother never hits the emotional highs it aims for by taking too many detours, both figurative and literal.
Beatriz shows up one day where daughter Olivia lives in Philadelphia with her dad to take her on a trip back to California, where (Beatriz eventually admits) she wants Olivia to speak on her behalf at her upcoming hearing to see if she will get her green card and stay in the United States legally.
But their journey is immediately fraught with roadblocks both benevolent and malevolent, from Olivia’s blog follower who’s a Yellowstone park ranger and a traveling middle-aged gay couple in the midst of getting married in all 50 states to a traffic cop and, finally and most menacingly, an ICE agent.
Although set in 2014, Miss You Like Hell is haunted by Trump’s immigrant intolerance, which casts an inevitable pall over a show that is, at its heart, a darkly humorous relationship drama about a mother desperate to reconnect and a daughter initially wanting (like most teens) to remain at arm’s length.
Quiara Alegria Hudes, who reworked her play 26 Miles for this show’s book, finds amusement and bemusement in Beatriz and Olivia’s attempts to find common ground beyond their shared blood, but by dropping several other characters in their way—only Manuel, who sells them tamales in Wyoming and who joins them on their trip, has any substantiveness—Hudes reduces their story to a frustratingly episodic character study.
Hudes isn’t helped by Erin McKeown’s songs: the lyrics are rather literal-minded, and McKeown’s tunes are for the most part unilluminating and suffer from a musical sameness. Early on, “Sundays” has a Sondheim vibe that bodes well, but by the time we get to the reprise of “Yellowstone,” a repetitive song that didn’t deserve its first airing, it’s clear that McKeown is running on fumes.
Sure enough, the show sputters to a stop despite a powerful final image courtesy of scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez, lighting designer Tyler Micoleau and director Lear deBessonet, who otherwise is unable to effectively navigate this extremely bumpy ride.
Daphne Rubin-Vega is an unsurprisingly fiery Beatriz, astonishing newcomer Gizel Jimenez makes a formidably spunky Olivia, and the supporting players fill out their cardboard roles proficiently. But Miss You Like Hell, for all its timely relevance, feels like a soap-opera period place despite the talent involved.
The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY
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