Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Happiest Song Plays Last *

The final play in Quiara Alegria Hudes's Elliot Trilogy is now in previews at Second Stage Theatre. Since I mostly enjoyed their production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning second installment, Water by the Spoonful, a little over a year ago, I was looking forward to the third play. I am sorry to report that the final play is a big step backwards from its predecessor. It is an unfocused melange of plot lines that are long on talk and short on cohesion -- community activism, after effects of the Iraq War, the important role of music in Puerto Rican culture, docudrama moviemaking, the events of Tahrir Square, the middle-aged desire to procreate, emergency room failings, and on and on. The focus is once more on Elliot (Armando Riesco again) and Yaz (Lauren Velez), Puerto Rican-American cousins from North Philadelphia. Elliot, a former Marine who served in Iraq is in Jordan making a film about the war. The film's female lead is Shar (Annapurna Sriram), an attractive actress with some Iranian and Egyptian blood. Their driver is Ali (Dariush Kashani), a refugee from Iraq trying to survive in Jordan. Back in Philly, Yaz has abandoned life in an upscale highrise for a house in the hood, where she cooks for and looks after her needy neighbors, especially Lefty (Anthony Chisholm), a homeless man. One of her neighbors is Agustin (Tony Plana) an alcoholic musician 20 years her senior who would like to have a baby with her. The action, such as it is, jumps back and forth among these characters with little effect. A polemic outburst in the second act seems to come out of nowhere. Allegedly, much of the material is autobiographical. Unfortunately it has not been shaped into a unified whole. A three-piece band provides welcome musical interludes that briefly stop the endless talk. Michael Carnahan's massive wooden slat set suggests Puerto Rico rather than either Philadelphia or Jordan. The usually fine Ruben Santiago-Hudson does not show a sure directorial hand. Fans of the television show "Ugly Betty" will at least enjoy the opportunity to see Plana and Velez together again. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission.

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