Goodman Theatre’s production of “The Happiest Songs Plays Last” does an exuberant and well-balanced dance between drama and comedy. The final play of the trilogy follows Yaz (Sandra Marquez) and her cousin Elliot (Armando Riesco) as they find love and themselves through music and culture.
Yaz is living in her home in Philadelphia trying to restore the run-down neighborhood she lives in by feeding anyone who needs food and bringing a cornucopia of plant life to her otherwise desolate hometown. Along the way she finds herself in a predicament brought upon her by her famous, do-good music teacher Agustin (Jaime Tirelli), and her unwillingness to say no. Elliot, a marine, finds himself on the other side of the world as the lead in an action-packed movie about war with Shar (Fawzia Mirza), a seemingly normal but confused actress who is ashamed of her Egyptian ethnicity. While Elliot is naturally good-natured, when he is in Jordan he is trying to put to rest the demons from his first kill. With the help of Ali (Demetrious Troy), his Iraqi friend hiding in Jordan, Elliot learns a little something about culture in the Middle East as well as himself. Then, when an event stuns all, the characters must learn how to cope with their demons and move on.
During the play, the music of old Puerto Rico rings through the theater as the musician (Nelson Gonzalez) plays tunes on his cuadro, a guitar-type instrument. The cuadro in the play has the honor of playing the role of unifier. It unifies Agustin to Puerto Rico and his past. It unifies Elliot to his childhood, and it unifies Yaz to Agustin, the love of her life.
Although the show is the last part of a trilogy, to see it without having seen the first two plays does not detract from the experience. “The Happiest Song Plays Last” is more than capable of satisfying the audience’s need for good theater and entertainment, as it plays off basic human senses.
The actors who play the characters delve into the innermost emotions that would surely have been felt by anyone who experienced what they did. Riesco does a lovely job of playing a boy who has seen and done awful things, but he manages to keep a smile on his face most of the time, despite the inner turmoil his character is going through.
While protest is the play’s theme, it does not come across as what connects the characters. That is not to say that the play’s message is unclear, but there would be more depth to it if protest was more of a main theme, and not so much a side note.
Overall, “The Happiest Song Plays Last” is a debut that should not be missed. A tale of love, loss, hope and redemption, this play is sure to tempt the emotions and the laugh box.