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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 30, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 13
Theatre22 presents The Happiest Song Plays Last
Arts & Entertainment
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Theatre22 presents The Happiest Song Plays Last

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

THE HAPPIEST SONG PLAYS LAST
THEATRE22
(AT 12TH AVENUE ARTS)
Through April 14


Quiara Alegria Hudes is one of our country's powerful, female playwrights and her work is becoming more ubiquitous in production. Theatre22 brought us a gorgeous (and Gypsy-award winning) production of Water By the Spoonful in 2015, which was the second part of a trilogy. Now, they've mounted the third part, The Happiest Song Plays Last.

Cousins Yaz (Aida Leguizamon) and Elliot (Joshua Chessin-Yudin) are separated in two different worlds here. It's an uneasy pairing of circumstances that in some ways makes the play feel uneven. Elliot has gone to the country of Jordan to work on a war film, using his background as an Iraq War vet. He stumbles into a starring role as an action hero, having been hired initially to be the boot camp trainer for the actors, helping them feel the reality of their roles.

Yaz has moved back to her aunt's North Philadelphia home to try to make their old neighborhood a better place, literally feeding the neighbors to develop community connection. Both Yaz and Elliot are lonely souls and a bit hardened against romantic relationships, but in this 'episode,' love creeps into their lives in unexpected ways.

You don't have to have seen either Episode 1 or Episode 2 to understand this play. Still, it's useful to know certain things about the characters. For instance, a key aspect of Elliot's past is that in Iraq, he killed a man. What becomes much clearer is that the man Elliot killed in war was not a soldier, and yet Elliot was a man with a gun and used it. This haunts his life, now, and he carries the man's passport in his pocket.

When in Jordan, he makes friends with a film actor, Shar (Lexi Chipman) and a gopher from Iraq, Ali (Agastya Kohli) who has been helping keep the film 'real.' When Elliot learns that Ali is actually Iraqi, and maybe can get the passport back to the man's family, he tells Ali the story of how he got the passport and begs for help.

Yaz, as a character, is a difficult one to understand. She is clearly an activist, and is struggling to find a way to express her desire to make the world a better place. For the moment, she's settled on feeding the neighborhood. But she still feels lonely and disconnected. Her two close friends there are a married musician, Agustin (Michael D. Blum) and a mentally-challenged homeless man, Lefty (Rich Hawkins). She finds herself growing more than friendly with Agustin, as he expresses frustration with his connection to his wife.

Reconciling the inner desires of our souls is an essential subtext to the characters. Everyone is searching for a way to 'matter.' By the end of the play, it seems Elliot has found his way forward, though it's not clear that Yaz is that successful.

The men in the play are, paradoxically, the best-written characters. And so, the male actors get the juiciest and clearest intentions to play. Blum does some fantastic work as a compassionate, yet flawed musician, and has all sorts of lovely layers of regret and music mingled in his portrayal. Chessin-Yudin is a young up-and-comer who shows an intensity and commitment in the roles he's played.

Hawkins plays Lefty with a sweet determination that, when Yaz misunderstands him, feels devastating. It's good to have him back on stage. Kohli does good work as the uneasy immigrant who wants to be friends with Elliot but also turns out to have strong boundaries. Chipman shows a charm and a lot of potential in this small role and she looks to be someone to watch out for in upcoming productions.

Leguizamon has the biggest challenge in a somewhat under-written, under-explained role. One can postulate that it's because Hudes wrote that role most closely identifying as herself.

One of the joys of the production is the infusion of music throughout, which helps establish the Latinx flavor needed to ground the characters. Politics is also a prominent theme. While the play is not without some difficulties, Hudes keeps you guessing and interested.

For more information, go to www.theatre22.org or call 206-257-2203.

Discuss your opinions with SGNCritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters. More articles can be found a MiryamsTheaterMusings.blogspot.com.

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