Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

Where the Mountain Meets the Sea

Theatre Review by Marc Miller - November 2, 2022

Chris Myers and Billy Eugene Jones
Photo by Matt Murphy
What is Manhattan Theatre Club's Where the Mountain Meets the Sea? Not a play, not a musical, not quite a concert, it is an uncategorizable hybrid by Jeff Augustin that has taken up residence on Stage 1 at City Center and entertains, mildly, for a little under an hour and a half, just long enough to not wear out its welcome. Best described as a series of dual monologues interrupted by folk-music digressions, ultimately, it does have a mildly moving story to tell. But don't look here for fireworks, or cohesion.

Arnulfo Maldonado's attractive set, for no discernible reason, is arena-style, a descending curved staircase framed by a mountain backdrop and mirrors on the side, expanding the already wide stage. On it, Jean (Billy Eugene Jones) just starts narrating at us, unspooling a life tale that comes across as a series of short stories. He was, it seems, a Haitian French teacher who'd obtained a visa to the U.S., where he intended to go to community college and continue his teaching career. His life took some unexpected turns, including mostly contented relationships with at least the three girlfriends we hear about. But his story is revealed very gradually, because we're also hearing the monologues of ...

Jonah (Chris Myers), the Haitian-American immigrant living in a later era than Jean's, who, we ultimately learn, is Jean's son. He's gay and he has a thing for, as he relates to us, redheads and daddies. Smart, confident, but subjected to homophobic taunts from an early age, he has also crossed the Caribbean to find a better life in the States. Which he largely does. At a time of so many immigrant-experience plays, most of them about how miserable the immigrant experience is, here's the rare one where the huddled masses yearning to breathe free are actually pretty fortunate, and pretty happy. It's a nice change. But it's not the basis for searing drama.

Instead, it's a somewhat random dual narrative, punctuated by the occasional pungent observation on American life. Jean, on Thanksgiving: "This strange American holiday ... a day of giving thanks. Every day is that day in Haiti. Americans like to schedule, schedule every experience of their lives."

But wait, there's more: a band, the Bengsons, with Abigail and Shaun Bengson interrupting the narrative with their folk songs. They're pleasant listening, and they give both Jones and Myers a chance to shake a leg, to Steph Paul's choreography, when dance works its way into Jean's and Jonah's reminiscences. But the songs' relationship to these characters' existences? Tenuous, at best.

We like these guys: Jones has a lovely lilting accent that makes Jean's memories sound more mellifluous than they read on page, and Myers has a varied, surprising delivery that can earn a laugh out of a line that doesn't really deserve it. But Augustin tends to repeat himself a lot, and there's only so much tension to be wrung out of these two narratives, each pushing forward without much conflict, and nearly devoid of strong emotion. Both men largely enjoy their American lives; both, after several false starts, are lucky in love; and we're left wondering if these two stories will ever coalesce, if father and son will ever come to any kind of rapprochement. (They don't hate each other, they're just mutually tentative and uncertain; again, not the stuff of sizzling theater.) Which, not much of a spoiler alert, they will. By the time Jean and Jonah are both grooving to "Oh My Love," with Myers plucking his own guitar, we're touched.

It's the usual classy MTC production, with glowing lighting by Stacey Derosier, unobtrusive costumes by Dominique Fawn Hill, and direction by Joshua Kahan Brody that stirs up as much emotion as can be gotten out of two benign life stories where nothing all that gripping happens. I expect that Augustin, a Haitian-American immigrant with an impressive resume (including episodes of the excellent Apple TV+ "The Morning Show," invested a lot of love in this recounting of his homeland and the price, and rewards, of assimilation after one has departed from it. But with its low-key retelling of two unremarkable lives, and its haphazard monologue-song-monologue format, Where the Mountain Meets the Sea–a title, by the way, that's never explained–resolutely fails to stick to the bones.

Where the Mountain Meets the Sea
Through November 27, 2022
Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Center Stage I, 131 W. 55th St.
Tickets online and current performance schedule: