At the heart of the production “Miss You Like Hell” is a riddling dynamic of human and cultural abandonment. This sentimental theme is often obscured by layers of seemingly random subplots that may run parallel to the chaos of two women, an absentee mother named Beatriz (Lorraine Velez) and her half Hispanic daughter Olivia (Stephanie Gomérez), but hardly adds to the profound drama that unfolds in this play that often feels like a musical. As I watched the story in this show develop, its migrational trajectory was obvious, yet the playwright (Quiara Alegría Hudes) teased my curiosity just enough to keep me engaged until its finale.
Although some surface pain is displayed, much of the story depends on inferred agony and primarily banks on the audience’s empathy towards two characters who, in spite of their blood relationship, are worlds apart in terms of culture and perspectives. Both women are in discovery of each other, of the country at large and its many characters in passing, and of the immigration system that cannot be circumvented forever.
…to deliver a raw, emotionally brutal drama with speckles of fun, a drizzle of hope and an avalanche of reality.
There are some clear cultural deficiencies, which as a Mexican-American I personally could not discount. The actors in this play are simply not from the culture they portrayed and it was painful to watch at times. However, for those in the audience not intimately familiar with Mexican-American culture, its many nuances may easily be overlooked or not noticed at all—which likely wouldn’t affect the overarching story. That aside, I thought Beatriz and Olivia did the best they could to exhibit the “Americanized Latina,” which happened to suffice for this production, but lacked the authentic punch to sell the cultural elements which were as absent in the performance as Beatriz was in her daughter’s life.
One of the uplifting aspects of this story comes from Olivia’s gradual transformation from a bratty, negative, suicidal blogger to a sympathetic daughter who finally clinches to the rind and fragments of her mother when she no longer has the choice of keeping her or pushing her away. Beatriz has some epiphanies of her own, but it was (as the saying goes) “too little, too late.”
Incidentally, I found the musical component of this story to be entertaining in a strange way. The songs fit the narrative, and they certainly helped with the onstage transitions, but generally flurried in curious synchronicity with the storyline. Nonetheless, the numbers that stood out for me were “Yellowstone,” sung by the character Pearl (Jaela Cheeks-Lomax), which was a delight, “Tamales,” performed by Manuel (Caesar Barajas), and “Dance With Me,” performed by the ensemble. Choreographer Alex Perez did a fantastic job on the dance bustles for the musical pieces, which were quite enjoyable.
Director Rebecca Martinez deserves a lot of credit for stitching this complex quilt together cohesively. The stage and props were excellent, so I tip my hat to Reid Thompson for that impressive set (the half truck sold it for me). Lighting by Elizabeth Mak, costumes by Harry Nadal and, and, of course, music director Tiffany Underwood Holmes packaged this performance as only top notch people in this business can do.
Although there are obvious political undertones in this story, the playwright managed to maneuver through the potholes in the road to deliver a raw, emotionally brutal drama with speckles of fun, a drizzle of hope and an avalanche of reality. Family is never an easy ensemble because resistance is always in the room and always tugging one’s heart. Hudes unravels that tug-o-war in Beatriz, who struggles with her daughter’s acceptance, her legal troubles and the slipping of her culture, traditions and freedoms.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with no intermission.
“Miss You Like Hell” is now playing at Baltimore Center Stage until October 13, 2019. For information and tickets, click here.