A touching portrait of a father and his alienated son unfolds in the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Where the Mountain Meets the Sea by Jeff Augustin, directed by Joshua Kahan Brody.
Jean (a gentle, but charismatic Billy Eugene Jones) is a Haitian living in the United States. A school teacher in Haiti, he is forced to do menial work as a baggage handler in Miami, even though he is a legal immigrant to the U.S.A. His life as a teacher could not be transferred to this country. He married and had a son, Jonah (Chris Myers, vibrant and appealing) who moved to the West Coast with his American mother.
To Jean, memories of his beloved Haiti are never far from his thoughts, memories complemented by the sweet music of Abigail and Shaun Bengson (known also as the Bengsons). They stand at the rear of Arnulfo Maldonado’s overly sumptuous wooden amphitheater set, and add music that resonates with the emotions of the characters, particularly those of Jean. At one point, Shaun Bengson even joins Jean in an exuberant dance.
When the Mountain Meets the Sea is not only about two different people, but two different time periods. Jean exists in memory while Jonah’s journey is to cross the country, retrieve Jean’s ashes and spread them over Haiti.
Each has long checkered histories of romantic encounters. To Jean, his lovers—women, to be sure—each represents a different facet of his life. He looks back on them fondly.
Jonah, on the other hand, seems to flit from one gay affair to another according to what each can do for him. Jonah leaves a well-to-do redhead for a muscled African-American basically on a whim. Of course, he is young and Augustin clearly does not condemn him or over praise Jean’s deeper romantic commitments.
The two men traverse the stage, often passing each other, an image that is as heartbreaking as it is metaphorical. The ending is particularly moving in a poignantly mellow way as each comes to realizations about the other.
This is one time when the largesse of the Manhattan Theatre Club’s production standards nearly overwhelmed a tender and intimate story. Maldonado’s elegant, smooth set almost consumes the play rather than illuminating it, as beautiful as it is. His lovely backdrop of gentle hills does hint at Haiti’s beauty before the image morphs into something less beautiful at the end.
Stacey Derosier’s subtle lighting and Dominique Fawn Hill’s simple, but character-driven, costumes both helped elucidate Augustin’s character-driven play.
The Bengsons’ music is lovely and their harmonies sometimes stingingly emotional.
Brody allowed all involved to serve the playwright.
All the dialogue, including some Haitian songs, is shown (and translated) on very visible panels on the side of the stage
Where the Mountain Meets the Sea (through November 27, 2022)
Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Center – Stage I, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.NYCityCenter.org
Running time: one hour and 20 minutes without an intermission