Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Where the Mountain Meets the Sea
Signature Theatre Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of The Matchbox Magic Flute

Robert Cornelius and Isaac "Deacon Izzy" Bell
Photo by Christopher Mueller
Sometimes intimate, small-scale theatrical stories can provide a disproportionately large impact on an audience. That's the case with Where the Mountain Meets the Sea, now in the ARK Theatre at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia; the soulful writing of Jeff Augustin and the folk-inflected songs of The Bengsons provide low-key, nuanced insights into the search for connection between a now-deceased father, an immigrant from Haiti, and his American-born son.

Jean (Robert Cornelius), an elementary school teacher in Haiti, fell in love with the United States upon his arrival in Miami and later took his pregnant wife on a cross-country road trip to learn more about American culture. Following Jean's death, his adult son Jonah (Isaac "Deacon Izzy" Bell), who lives in Los Angeles and has a doctorate in linguistics, is traveling a similar path in reverse to retrieve his father's ashes in Miami and return them to Haiti. The story plays itself out through alternating monologues that allow the father and son to recount their own stories, while two singing musicians (Rob Morrison and Awa Sal Secka) add another level of emotion with their songs of life, love and yearning.

Describing the actual performance is not easy; some things really should be experienced firsthand. The actors bring depth to the way they inhabit their characters, but it's the details of Augustin's writing that animates the two men: Jean, optimistic and determined to seek new experiences in love and life; and Jonah, a gay man who never came out to his father but finds comfort in sharing Jean's love of Appalachian folk music.

While the 80-minute performance touches on painful emotions (for example, the early death of Jonah's mother), director Timothy Douglas never allows the tone to become maudlin. Similarly, choreographer Dane Figueroa Edidi emphasizes serenity rather than overt emotionalism in the performers' behavior.

This production is a play with music rather than a musical: music director Rob Morrison makes sure that the songs, as evocative as they are, build the drama without dominating the words of the monologues. The two musicians provide subtle vocal harmonies as they perform on a variety of instruments, many unfamiliar to U.S. audiences.

Where the Mountain Meets the Sea runs through July 7, 2024, at Signature Theatre, ARK Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington VA. For tickets and information, please call 703-820-9771 or visit

By Jeff Augustin
Music by The Bengsons
Directed by Timothy Douglas
Music directed by Rob Morrison
Choreographed by Dane Figueroa Edidi

Jean: Robert Cornelius
Jonah: Isaac "Deacon Izzy" Bell
Musician 1: Rob Morrison
Musician 2: Awa Sel Secka