Like all the best road trips viewed through the rearview mirror, the high points of Miss You Like Hell look even brighter than they did when experiencing them.
Michelle Hernandez (Beatriz) and Larissa Mehlig (Olivia) shine as the mother-daughter pair in Out the Box Theatre Company’s production. They have terrific chemistry and a convincing familial friction that’s so critical to the plotline here: the story of a cross-country mother-daughter reconciliation road trip, set to music, of course.
The music is definitely the most appealing part of this show and their singing is both moving and melodic. I was particularly touched during their duet on “Mothers” (“A Mother is the slipperiest thing a daughter could wish for” and “Mothers are the trickiest things, the trickiest by far”); Mehlig’s solo on “Sundays” (about a daughter who only sees her mother on their special Sundays together); and Hernandez giving herself a pep talk on “Lioness,” a song that’s reprised a few times.
The story itself — an ambitious and timely tale of a woman whose questionable parenting in the past can be attributed at least somewhat, to her undocumented status, and whose impending deportation adds an urgency to her unexpectedly showing back up in her 16-year-old daughter’s life and taking her on a “spontaneous” road trip — doesn’t always succeed, despite the production’s best efforts.
Did mom come back into her daughter’s life just to get her to testify at her immigration hearing or was it because she was concerned about a possible suicide threat? There’s a LOT to pack in here, in addition to the conventional road trip tropes (they meet a bunch of entertaining characters — all solidly acted and sung — who teach them important lessons along the way and help them develop a further appreciation for each other), and the tone of the story is a bit uneven.
That being said, my tears were definitely streaming from the moment Mehlig sang the title number, “Miss You Like Hell,” as she reflected on her mother being sent back to Mexico, all the way through the final scenes of the show when she visits her at Friendship Park, a binational park located at the western end of the US-Mexico border, where generations of people once gathered to meet up with friends and family. Notably the show takes place in 2014, and in February 2020, San Diego Border Patrol officials completely closed the Park and have made no commitment to its re-opening. For more information about this historic meeting place, visit friendshippark.org.