There is something very grounding and important about the relationship between a father and a son, especially in the Black, Haitian and Caribbean communities. That is a relationship that is fostered at a young age, that teaches the son what it means to grow up as a Black man. It teaches the son responsibility, how to care for themselves and others. It teaches a son their worth in this world on a certain level. It is a bond that enriches their lives and gives them something to hold onto and build from. But what happens when that relationship is instead blocked? What happens when a father decides that he and his son have such different approaches to what being a male can entail and what it cannot, that they grow distant and isolated? There is something about sitting in the audience at “Where the Mountain Meets the Sea,” that brings one to a stunning revolution that nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of this paramount relationship. The relevant and timely play by Jeff Augustin shares the story of a Haitian immigrant who came to Miami, Jean, and had dreams of building a life in America. He was a good man, a hard worker and someone who had fond memories of his home country and was guarded when it came to adapting to the lifestyles of the United States. Jean was an intelligent man, who had to take menial work but still pushed on in his new home. Then you have his son Jonah, a student who has a lifestyle that his father cannot abide by, and this finds them never getting to build that necessary father/son bond.
Augustin’s deeply felt, brilliantly written work takes the audience on a journey into the memories, histories and the holes that existed in this father and son’s relationship and the son’s desperate journey to try and fill in those holes as he tries to find out who his parents were by taking a road trip they took years before. This play is filled with significant moments in these characters’ lives that lead to them being the men they are today. Jonah’s pain over his isolated childhood and his father’s approach towards raising him are quite disturbing to watch, but they are sadly something that is very real in our communities.
I believe that Augustin’s play can serve as a catalyst to get families to address the issue in this play of Black fathers’ blockage in accepting their Black sons that don’t fit into the box of manhood that they were raised in their countries to believe in. It is so damaging to any person to not feel they are worthy of your love and your acceptance. But it is also something that a father can’t be blamed for because it is how they were raised. At least this play could start a conversation.
With the difficult topic of this play, the playwright’s message is made more digestible to the audience by allowing the characters’ pain to be expressed in live folk performances of Mountain music beautifully delivered by The Bengsons—Abigail and Shaun, who share the stage with the actors. The audience gets an appreciation for the beauty of the creole language and its translation as there are times when things are spoken and sung in that language. You can hear the love a person holds and their memories of the beauty of their homeland that they never got to see again. The engaging, smooth direction of Joshua Kahan Brody allows the audience to connect with these characters, their love for their native home, but also the estranged relationship that now leaves a son searching for answers, love, and acceptance, not just from others, but from himself.
This play runs 80 minutes without an intermission. Billy Eugene Jones is absolutely heartwarming, determined, and torn as Jean. Chris Myers gives a stunningly poignant performance that succeeds in showing compassion, understanding, and an epiphany for his character and for all those young Black men out there who need to feel that they are worthy of all the good things in life. Please go and see this play and feel the grandeur of its message. It is playing at 131 W. 55th Street between 7th and 6th Avenues.