"The Happiest Song Plays Last" (Goodman Theatre): Stories Bury the Story

"The Happiest Song Plays Last" (Goodman Theatre):  Stories Bury the Story

Goodman Theatre presents the World Premiere of THE HAPPIEST SONG PLAYS LAST.

In the more intimate second stage space at the Goodman, Scenic Designer Collette Pollard constructed a 2 story building. The building is on the diagonal with the lengthy depth of the side as the main view.  The visual is a surprising choice.  There is cute front porch barely showcased. The reasoning is apparent as the play launches with a Puerto Rican assembly.  Suddenly, the side of the building serves as a theatre screen.  A crowd is projected on the huge wall.  The imagery (designed by John Boesche) gives depth to the passionate pleas by the protestors on stage.  Throughout the show, the projections effectively illustrate place, time and emotion.  At one point, the massive wall even peels open to reveal a kitchen and the window also serves as another screen. Cool!             

Helping classify locale is important because this show is all over the map.  Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes completes her “Elliot Trilogy” with this show.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see the first two installments: “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue”(2007 Pulitzer finalist) or “Water by the Spoonful” (2012 Pulitzer Prize Winner).  I imagine that failure added to my confusion in deciphering the multiple stories.  There are two main story lines.  In Philadelphia, a woman is a community activist.  She opens her kitchen to neighborhood misfits.  Over in Jordan, a marine has taken over the hero role in a film about the Iraq war.  He befriends an actress and the movie’s local consultant.  Within those primary story lines, additional tales of atonement and ethnic identity unfold in a variety of characters. And along with their back stories, each of these characters tells more stories.   

I love the premise of everyone’s personal quest to tell their stories.  Even the interludes of the strolling musician Nelson Gonzalez sings about cultural heritage.  It’s just that stories within stories within stories get disjointed.  The connection between the two primary storylines is two Puerto Rican cousins played by Armando Riesco (Elliot) and Sandra Marquez (Yaz).  Director Edward Torres uses projected texting and Skype conversations to build the relationship. It doesn’t work.  Riesco, who effectively mimics a variety of accents on the movie set, sounds/acts like a punk from the ‘hood.  Marquez, on the other hand, has a Puerto Rican accent and a maternal presence.  They don’t seem like cousins that grew up together in the same neighborhood or the same family.  Despite a Jibaros-looking headshot, Riesco’s military buzz makes him look like a blond.                          

It’s these inconsistencies that keep me detached from the play.  I was compelled by the soulful performance by Demetrios Troy (Ali).  Yet, his storylines gets buried in the heap.  THE HAPPIEST SONG PLAYS LAST has the framework for some engaging storytelling. Hudes needs to pick and craft the ones that work best to tell her story.

Running Time:  Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission

Written by Quiara Alegria Hudes

Directed by Edward Torres

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays at 7:30pm

Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm

Saturdays, Sundays at 2pm


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