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The Happiest Song Plays Last at Goodman Theatre | Theater review

Quiara Alegría Hudes brings her "Elliot trilogy" to a close, as Elliot returns to the Middle East just in time to witness the Arab Spring.

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
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Photograph: Liz Lauren

The Happiest Song Plays Last at Goodman Theatre

2/10

The Happiest Song Plays Last at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
3/10
Photograph: Liz Lauren

The Happiest Song Plays Last at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
4/10
Photograph: Liz Lauren

The Happiest Song Plays Last at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
5/10
Photograph: Liz Lauren

The Happiest Song Plays Last at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
6/10
Photograph: Liz Lauren

The Happiest Song Plays Last at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
7/10
Photograph: Liz Lauren

The Happiest Song Plays Last at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
8/10
Photograph: Liz Lauren

The Happiest Song Plays Last at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
9/10
Photograph: Liz Lauren

The Happiest Song Plays Last at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
10/10
Photograph: Liz Lauren

The Happiest Song Plays Last at Goodman Theatre

Playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes completes her "Elliot trilogy"—a cycle begun with 2006's Pulitzer finalist, Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue, and continued in the 2012 Pulitzer winner, Water by the Spoonful—with this new entry, a world premiere directed by Teatro Vista's Edward Torres.

Former Marine Elliot (Armando Riesco, who's originated the role in each of the three plays' debuts) has returned to the Middle East as a consultant on a movie about the Iraq War, being filmed in Jordan just as the Arab Spring is roiling the region. Back home in North Philly, Elliot's cousin, music professor Yaz (Sandra Marquez), is taking her late aunt's place as community organizer and neighborhood caretaker.

Hudes's characters and way with dialogue are as appealing as ever, though for those who aren't familiar with the preceding plays—particularly Water by the Spoonful, which has yet to be produced in Chicago (Court Theatre just announced it will have the premiere next spring)—it could be unclear at first why these two stories are being told together.

Yet Hudes carefully reveals parallels between the plotlines. Elliot and his new associates Ali (Demetrios Troy), an Iraqi national on the lam in Jordan, and Shar (Fawzia Mirza), an American actor ambivalent about her part-Egyptian heritage, watch events unfold in Tahrir Square from two countries over. Yaz protests U.S. immigration rhetoric and contemplates an uncertain future with an old friend (Jaime Tirelli), a practitioner of jíbaro music, a Puerto Rican folk tradition that uses nostalgia as a way of preserving the past. (Prominent Puerto Rican musician Nelson Gonzalez provides the live score.)

What emerges is a nudging challenge to our stubbornly American definitions of such topics as illegal immigration and active democracy, all while Elliot continues to reckon with his past actions and everyone tries to look forward. The play's last note may not be its happiest, but it's full of hope.

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