“Miss You Like Hell” with Book and Lyrics by Quiara Algería Hudes and Music and Lyrics by Erin McKeown and directed by Lisa Portes is playing on the Main Stage at Olney Theatre Center through March 1, 2020.
Hudes was commissioned by La Jolla Playhouse to write a new play after her successes with “In the Heights” and “Water by the Spoonful” for which she won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It opened after readings at La Jolla and New York at the La Jolla Playhouse in October 2016, finally opening off-Broadway at The Public Theater in April 2018.
The New York Times called it, “A fresh take on the American road story, filled with people and ideas we rarely get to see onstage.” The story follows Beatriz (Karmine Alers), an undocumented immigrant and her estranged 16-year-old daughter, Olivia (Valeria Morales) on a road trip to California where they encounter various interesting characters that help make up the American fabric. It also makes statements about family, mental health and the status of immigration in the United States. It does this with humor and warmth and some stirring dramatic moments.
‘Miss You Like Hell’ is a poignant story of a mother and daughter trying to hold on in a world that is full of obstacles. All of us are affected by its message.
Alers captures the saucy but haunted Beatriz. We feel Beatriz’ emotions as she tried desperately to bond with her daughter, trying to make Olivia understand the horrible plight of being an undocumented immigrant. As Beatriz states in song, she is always looking “Over My Shoulder.” Alers shows us the character’s strong Latin spirit in the number, “Dance with Me” where she is joined by the cast in a lively dance to honor her roots and struggles.
Morales may be only a freshman in high school, but she gives a mature and multi-dimensional performance as Olivia. Morales allows us to see Olivia mature as she learns of her mother’s plight. She changes from a despondent self-absorbed teenager to a young woman who understands that it is often the politics of the world that can play havoc with our lives. Her song “Sundays” is heart-wrenching as she sings of saying goodbye every Sunday to her non-custodial mother. In the final scenes, we see her growth as she sings “Miss You Like Hell” along with the Ensemble.
In the supporting cast and bringing some warmth and lightness to the story are Bradley Mott as Mo (and also as Castaway) and Lawrence Redmond as Higgins (and also as Castaway). They play two grown-up children of the sixties who have always been in love with each other and are now married. Their duet, backed by the Ensemble, “My Bell’s Been Rung,” conveys the laughs and pain of their long relationship both in and out of the closet.
Also, a stand out is Kayla Gross as Pearl (and also as a Castaway) who plays Olivia’s online friend. Pearl lives near Yellowstone and during their cross-country trip the mother and daughter visit. Gross not only tells us of the wonders of the park in “Yellowstone” and its “Reprise” but gives us insight into the struggles of her own character.
In another shining supporting performance is Carlos L. Encinias who plays another Latin immigrant who befriends the pair and develops a special relationship with them. His character, Manuel, is a food vendor and he sings of us own sorrows in the song, “Tamales.”
The rest of the very talented cast includes Kara-Tameika Watkins as Lawyer/Castaway. Michael Wood as Police Officer/Castaway, Olivia Ashley Reed as Court Clerk/Castaway, Jay Frisby as Motel Clerk/Castaway and Jyline Carranza as ICE Agent/Castaway. (A Castaway is a member of Olivia’s on-line, self-help group that she started when she was feeling suicidal.)
Portes’s direction is fast and snappy on the stark set by Milagros Ponce De León, made up of several platforms and poles with chairs and benches as the actors only leave the stage for costume changes. The director brings out the best of her talented cast. I had two minor issues with the staging of the show. I thought having the supporting actors warm up on stage to be a bit awkward. There was also a problem viewing some of the early scenes from the mezzanine.
In what seems to be an effort to remove the fourth wall some of the first scenes are staged in the audience. However, by the next scene or two, it is over, and the imaginary wall between the audience and cast is back. There is, later, another real wall that is most effective.
McKeown and Hudes music and lyrics are in good hands with Walter “Bobby” McCoy. The set includes a very visible orchestra. The music has a folk song flavor rather than a Latin one with one exception, “Dance with Me.” However, it did well to help convey the story and emotions of the characters.
Pablo Santiago’s Lighting Design, Matt Rowe’s Sound Design and Thomas Ontiveros’ Projection Design do a great deal to enhance the staging. Ivania Stack’s Costume Designs bring out the characters’ personalities and their growth.
“Miss You Like Hell” is a poignant story of a mother and daughter trying to hold on in a world that is full of obstacles. All of us are affected by its message.
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes. No Intermission.
“Mis You Like Hell” is presently playing at Olney Theatre Center in Olney Maryland until March 1, 2020. For more information on the production go online. To purchase tickets, go online. For information about Olney Theatre Center and other productions this season go to their website. Olney Theatre Center is located at 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney MD 20832.
Note: Following Saturday matinee performances: February 8, February 15, February 22 and February 29 there will be afterwords discussions on immigration with members of the Montgomery County Council.
Note: Due to some of the language and subject matter this show is not recommended for young children.