One of the main reasons I was at The Public Theater on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in New York City was to see Daphne Rubin-Vega (Broadway’s Rent) do what she does best in the new musical, Miss You Like Hell. The powerful and super relevant show seems tailor-made for this fireball. She is the spiritual and emotional “lioness” and “warrior“, words she appropriately uses to describe her character, Beatriz, as she presents herself for the first song, “Prayer (Lioness)“. And we readily believe in her, wanting to cry out “you can do this” when she wonders out loud if she possibly can. With the book and lyrics written by Quiara Alegría Hudes (Pulitzer prize for Drama – Water By the Spoonful), and music and lyrics by Erin McKeown (her first of 10 albums – Distillation), this topical and smart musical wraps itself up in a sweet yet engaging road trip that is driven with perfection by the star and her director, Lear deBessonet (Public’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). It tells the story of a complicated and problematic mother and daughter relationship set in a difficult America, battling the immigration system, the threat of deportation, and the confessions that are desperately needed to be made to one another to make things less walled off. It’s a raw and challenging story, laced with moments of struggle and acceptance as Rubin-Vega’s mother Beatriz tries her best to ‘mommy the fuck out‘ of her girl. But that is not her only goal, she also needs to save herself from a possible outcome that lurks on the Mexican horizon.
Filling the stark and empty negative space, enacted on a square creation by scenic designer, Riccardo Hernandez (Broadway’s Indecent) with exacting costumes by Emilio Sosa (Broadway’s On Your Feet!) and lighting by Tyler Micoleau (Public’s First Daughter Suite), is where Beatriz pleads for the remembrance of Sundays. She hopes with all her heart that the memories of Prometheus Bound will help the wounds, like the ones inflicted by the crows to Prometheus’ body, be bandaged and healed by the mother, her reappearance, and through the gift of time. The historical baggage that remains, stuffed with past disappointments, get unpacked and thrown around and at one another with frustration and rage but also, a deep need for reformation with one another. Both have a strong desire that these “two old bags” filled with castaway comments will help drive the two towards some sort of resolution, but work must be done.
Rubin-Vega is astonishing in the part, unleashing that wild animal that lives inside her voice as we watch “life fight for life“. The main focus beyond her own self-interest is her castaway daughter, Olivia, uniquely bringing to life her own version of the troubled “lioness” by Gizel Jiménez (Public’s Party People). The road they travel to find some sort of faith and allegiance for one another is long, seven days long, and the width of many states, all the way to Yellowstone Park and beyond. The other American souls that they run into on this journey are inhabited by the always present and engaged cast of characters littering the side of that highway and bringing the music to a rich full conclusion: Andrew Cristi (Encores’ Big River), Shawna M. Hamic (Broadway’s The Last Ship), Marcus Paul James (Broadway’s In the Heights), and Danny Bolero (Broadway’s Joseph) as the wonderful and kind-hearted Manuel. There is also a lawyer who pops up here and there, played solidly by Marinda Anderson (PH’s The Treasurer), trying her best to help out with the Beatriz situation and the proceedings. They share with the conflicted parent and child the truths and dreams that coexist in this complicated world we live in.
But it is within the warm and wonderful big-armed hug from the duo made up of David Patrick Kelly (Broadway’s Thérèse Raquin) and Michael Mulheren (Broadway’s Bright Star) as Higgins and Mo that invite us into one of the truly most touching and unique romantic moments of a musical this season, outside of that Band and their visit to Bet Haatikva via Broadway. It feels so real and touching, just like the whole of this musical piece, causing the tears to flow down my cheeks. They all making me quite glad I came out of the sun and went on this seven-day road trip with these two conflicted ladies at The Public. It was totally worth missing that beautiful Saturday in New York. There will be others, I tell myself, but to miss Missing You Like Hell would be as close to hellacious as I ever want to be. And let me add an exclamation point on the end of that statement, it deserves it!