We've Got Hollywood Covered
|

‘Where the Mountain Meets the Sea’ Review: 2 Haitian American Men Seek Their Roots Through Music

Jeff Augustin’s new Off-Broadway play, with music by the Bergsons, sends mixed messages

Jeff Augustin’s new play, “Where the Mountain Meets the Sea,” hits close to home — exploring the lives of two Haitian American men in a series of dueling monologues that recount their personal history with their Haitian culture, with the opportunities and challenges of living in the U.S. and with the idea of masculinity in both societies. (The show opened Wednesday at Off Broadway’s Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center.)

Billy Eugene Jones plays Jean, a teacher in his native Haiti who arrives in Miami in the late 1970s and takes a job at the local airport. Chris Myers plays Jonah, a modern UCLA doctoral student in linguistics who feels mostly estranged from his family (dad in particular) since coming out as gay. They both recount cross-country road trips that they hope will offer a sense of connection — and tease a meet-up (of sorts) that audiences will see coming like a long-distant water tower on a Great Plains highway.

Still, Augustin has a gift for building character through storytelling and poetic turns of phrase that feel natural and not just writerly. And under Joshua Kahan Brody’s nimble direction, Jones and Myers effectively relate their characters’ backstories with snatches of detail that ring true.

Where the show stumbles is in the addition of music, composed by the husband-wife duo Abigail and Shaun Bergson and performed onstage by them — though Jones and Myers occasionally join in the harmonizing. The Bergsons are talented songwriters in the folk/roots tradition, and Jean explains how he was drawn to Southern roots music, which reminded him of the Moun Mon music of his rural Haitian home.

But there’s something jarring about cutting from Jean and Jonah’s personal accounts to a white couple singing songs meant to evoke Jean and Jonah’s very specific experiences. Yes, there’s something universal about the language of music — but it’s unsettling to see and hear these characters literally yield the spotlight to others. In the show’s final moments, Jean and Jonah do meet up — and share the stage for a duet that showcases Myers’ strong, clear tenor and Jones’ thin but moving vocals.

But that only reinforces the show’s curious construction: Why aren’t these men allowed to tell – and sing – their own truths from the beginning?