There’s a crowd buzzing with anticipation in the intimate Manhattan Theatre Club. On the stage sits three guitars, a banjo, four chairs, and microphones. The lights dim, four people enter, and a man grabs the mic and smoothly lists basic french conjugations. The man is Billy Eugene Jones, the star in Where the Mountain Meets the Sea.
Directed by Joshua Kahan Brody and written by Jeff Augustine, the play tells the story of Jean (Billy Eugene Jones), a Haitian schoolteacher that immigrates to Miami for more opportunities. He lands a job as an airport baggage handler and falls in love with Natalie who is also a Haitian immigrant. Natalie becomes pregnant, and the couple takes a cross-country road trip from Miami and Los Angeles. Later, their son Jonah (Chris Myers) makes the same trip in reverse to collect his father’s ashes. Jean and Jonah’s stories are told like two twirling parallel lines. They interrupt each other and are bound by a fondness for folk music.
If you’ve never seen a person bust down and totally lose themself to a folksy toon by The Bengsons, you’re missing out. Jones and Myers deliver wonderfully vulnerable performances that would make any child of immigrants call their dad and tell them how much they love him. Jones imbues whimsy and optimism into Jean, who got the big American dream. Myers’s sarcastic performance of Jonah is hilarious and conveys the dissatisfaction of realizing the dream is a fluke. As the two stories collide, the actors perform a duet of“Sonjé M.” The song beacons the listener to “remember me, when I am gone” and allows Jean and Jonah to make amends in their previously distant relationship. It’s a bittersweet tune that’ll leave you with tears in your eyes and a smile on your lips.