Music Heard the World Over
The Happiest Song Plays Last by Quiara Allegraia Hudes is the sequel to Hude’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Water by the Spoonful which was also produced by TAG and directed by Peggy Anne Siegmund last year. At the play’s center are two young Puerto Rican/American cousins temporarily living a world apart, one in North Philly and the other in Jordan during the time of the turbulent Egyptian 18 days of the Egyption Revolution in 2011.
Yazmine, subtly played by the talented Becky McGarvey, is a Yale educated music professor who sold her Steinway to buy her grandmothers home in order to provide traditional, homemade, Puerto Rican dishes to her poor neighbors. She struggles with loneliness, developing a “crush” on a much older, married man, Augustin, by the charismatic, David Greene. She also babies Lefty, a homeless man believably portrayed by James Charles Roberts.
Elliot, played by Brandon Caban, is a former Iraq combat soldier who started working on a film as a military advisor, but finds himself acting in it, developing a relationship with his leading lady, Shar (Victoria Brown-Wilson), who is multi-ethnic and feels she does not fully identify with any culture. Ali, the assistant to the director, fears that a coup d’etat taking place in Egypt might have dangerous consequence for them in Jordan, and that their insurance company will send them back home before the film is finished.
There are challenges in creating several places worlds apart on a stage that is the size of a small patio, but good costuming makes all the difference and costumer Carlyn Wolfe does a great job. Director Siegmund and set director, Laurie Tanoura, were successful in creating the world of Jordan. Explosive sound effects, and a fog machine creates a combat zone. Simple pillows and a basket create the inside of his friend Ali’s home, and in a hotel room we hear the Egyptian overthrow while it plays out on a television off stage. Unfortunately, the kitchen in North Philly, although beautifully executed,and is a piece of art unto itself, distracts from the action. It made it necessary to place North Philly upstage and far away from the audience. This stole away the sense of intimacy between the two lovers that could have and should have been there.
Musicians; John Ortiz (cuatro), Jo Mahika (guitar and vocals) and Gena Perry (guiro) lent cultural authenticity to the play, but the recorded Middle Eastern Music less so.( Siegmund was not able to find anyone on Oahu who could play a stringed instrument called an oud and that made it impossible to do.) This unfortunately created an imbalance between the two cultures that were being compared and contrasted.
Siegmund’s directing super strength is drawing true, real, heartfelt performances from her actors. I was especially impressed by Caban’s quiet, intensely emotional performance. Paul Yau also stood out as Ali, the movies assistant direct, who hides his Iranian nationality, so he, his wife, and children can live safely in Jordan together.
For more information and to order tickets, please go to www.taghawaii.net.
Written by Terri Madden.