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Miss You Like Hell

Quiara Alegría Hudes (“In the Heights”) turns to a Mexican heroine who is an undocumented immigrant trying to bond with her daughter in her latest musical.

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Gizel Jiménez and Daphne Rubin-Vega in a scene from “Miss You Like Hell” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Having written about Dominican-Americans in the musical In the Heights and Puerto Rican-Americans in her Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, Quiara Alegría Hudes has now moved on to a story of an undocumented Mexican-American who wants to bond with her daughter who she lost custody of ten years earlier. The story of a road trip between 40ish Beatriz (Daphne Rubin-Vega) and 16-year-old Olivia (Gizel Jiménez), Miss You Like Hell, with music by singer-songwriter Erin McKeown and lyrics by Hudes and McKeown, also has other things on its mind.

Although Beatriz does not initially tell Olivia when she shows up with a borrowed pick-up truck in Philadelphia where Olivia lives with her American father (who we never meet), she has an immigration hearing in Los Angeles in one week’s time and hopes her daughter will testify in her behalf. Claiming to be worried about Olivia who posted a failed suicide attempt on her blog Castaways the week before, Beatriz tells her that they need some quality time together after being estranged for the previous four years. During their journey they travel though Ohio, Indiana, South Dakota and Wyoming where Olivia wants to connect with Pearl, a junior ranger who is her most devoted follower online.

Latoya Edwards (center) and company of “Miss You Like Hell” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Along the way they meet a gay couple getting married in all 50 states, get arrested for a broken brake light, meet Manuel, a Peruvian-born widower and tamales maker, and hook up with Pearl at her job in Yellowstone. Both Beatriz and Olivia put in calls to her lawyer back in L.A. Although we learn a great deal about what it is like to be undocumented and the risks such people run particularly in the current climate, the episodes seem random and tangential. The attractive and pleasant score by McKeown and Hudes is made up of folk-rock and country western songs. Unfortunately, the majority of them are about memories of the past and very few of them have much weight. None of them feel integrated into the plot.

Director Lear deBessonet’s minimalist production uses a set design by Riccardo Hernandez which uses a rectangular blue/purple playing area with the audience sitting on three sides, two stools to represent the inside of the car, and eight chairs for the ensemble who are on stage throughout the story and play multiple roles. Although the lighting by Tyler Micoleau occasionally offers some color on a skyscape on the back wall, Miss You Like Hell is devoid of atmosphere and the very emptiness of the stage undercuts the cluttered relationship between Beatriz and Olivia. Emilio Sosa’s costumes are rather generic and don’t much define the characters but telegraph them instead.

Gizel Jiménez, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Michael Mulheren and David Patrick Kelly in a scene from “Miss You Like Hell” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

What makes the storytelling riveting are the performances by the talented cast. As the free-spirited Beatriz fighting for her life, Rubin-Vega is at her fiercest and she is a memorable three-dimensional character. Jiménez as the confused, angry Olivia is charming as she reveals her best childhood memories, lists her favorite books which have been a refuge, and grows up in the course of the road trip. David Patrick Kelly and Michael Mulheren are suitably touching as a gay couple who have loved each other for 50 years. Danny Bolero is sensitive as the still grieving widower who takes a shine to Beatriz.

As junior ranger Pearl who makes appearances throughout (mainly through her spoken emails), Latoya Edwards is as feisty as Beatriz and as together as Olivia would like to be. Authoritative Marinda Anderson as Beatriz’s immigration lawyer back in L.A. makes periodic visits by phone in the course of the trip. Marcus Paul James is all business as the police officer who stops Beatriz along the way.

Gizel Jiménez, Danny Bolero and Daphne Rubin-Vega in a scene from “Miss You Like Hell” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Miss You Like Hell does not become poignant until it is almost over when the stakes are raised and Olivia realizes that she could lose her mother if she is deported. The free-form, experimental staging is interesting but does not always help in delineating a cross-country trip. Quiara Alegría Hudes and Erin McKeown have created a timely story in their investigation of the life of an undocumented immigrant but ultimately Miss You Like Hell avoids much of the possible drama in the way it doles out bits and pieces of Beatriz’s story.

Miss You Like Hell (though May 6, 2018)

The Public Theater

Newman Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-967-7555 or visit http://www.publictheater.org

Running time: one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission

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Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (524 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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