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Los Otros

Theatre Review by James Wilson - August 31, 2022

Luba Mason and Caesar Samayoa
Photo by Russ Rowland
The two characters that populate Los Otros, the affecting and intimate new musical by Ellen Fitzhugh and Michael John LaChiusa, appear to be from different worlds entirely. One is a twice-divorced white woman who grew up in government housing in southern California. The other is a gay accountant who immigrated from Mexico as a small child. They travel in separate circles, but like an existential Venn diagram, their lives intersect, and they are brought together through tricks of fate (and creative design).

Los Otros, or "The Others," spans seven decades from 1933 to 2000 and follows Lillian (Luba Mason) and Carlos (Caesar Samayoa) from childhood to old age. The earliest depiction of Lillian is as a rambunctious adolescent. She and her two friends from the housing project in which her family lives sneak food to the Mexican immigrants, who have furtively crossed the border into the United States. Twelve years later, Lillian has two children and has been married twice, once to a gay man. "That was fun," she deadpans. Lillian's adulthood is marked by alcoholism, which leads to a grippingly recounted sexual encounter.

Carlos came to the United States with his mother in the midst of a devastating hurricane. As he wryly explains, "If my mother hadn't wrestled with that storm–and with a four-year-old boy, me–I would not have been a part of that wave of gay Mexican accountants who breached the border." As a twelve-year-old, he describes working as a janitor after school and picking plums under the hot summer sun. The years pass, and Carlos evolves from a sexually conflicted teen and migrant farm-worker to a middle-aged accountant with an antiques-hoarding, rich partner (who has an ex-wife named Lillian).

Fitzhugh and LaChiusa had originally created the show as a two-act musical, which premiered in 2012 at the Mark Taper Forum. In that version, each act spotlighted the characters separately. In the new one-act incarnation, the characters alternate in the narration and only rarely interact directly. Structurally, the musical is similar to other two-character song cycles, such as Marry Me a Little, The Last Five Years, and (to a degree) John & Jen. Fitzhugh's book (which is loosely based on her own experiences) and lyrics are serviceable, but unfortunately, the story is rather lopsided: Lillian is the more interesting character, and her story is more compelling than Carlos's. Still, there is a nice pay-off at the end when the characters reckon with their own mortality and intersected lives.

LaChiusa's lush and lovely music combines elements of Mexican folk music with period-specific musical motifs and soaring melodies. After his previous New York musical, the disappointing First Daughter Suite, LaChiusa is once again in top form. Bruce Coughlin provided the orchestrations, which are felicitously performed under J. Oconer Navarro's music direction for an on-stage three-piece band.

Under the direction of Noah Himmelstein, the cast is topnotch. Samayoa, recently of Come from Away, is deeply affecting as Carlos. Vocally, he has a rich and powerful cadence, and as an actor, he poignantly reflects the cruelties of life that reduce a spirited and determined youth to a deteriorating older man in the early stages of dementia.

Mason, who was sensational in last season's Girl from the North Country, is positively luminous here. She is in gorgeous voice, and she serves LaChiusa's music exquisitely. LaChiusa's compositions can be typically challenging for singers and first-time listeners, but Mason offers moments of breathtaking resonance. Even more impressively, she creates a complicated and finely etched portrayal of the character. There is nothing cloying, for instance, about her interpretation of Lillian as a child, and she is steely and unapologetic while reliving the indignities of a struggling and lonely single parent. It is, in short, a revelatory performance.

The show is presented with effective and minimalist design, which captures the shifting eras, moods and settings. (Junghyun Georgie Lee designed the sets, Alejo Vietti designed the costumes, Adam Honoré designed the lighting, and Ken Travis designed the sound.) The result is a sharp and incisive examination of people who are generally "othered" and often forgotten.

While some may prefer their musicals with a full chorus and large ensemble, when Samayoa and, in particular, Mason take the stage, there is no need for any others.

Los Otros
Through October 8, 2022
ART/NY Mezzanine Theatre, 502 West 53rd Street at 10th Avenue, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: