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It’s the silence that captures a fractured relationship’s unspeakable ache in “Where the Mountain Meets the Sea,” playwright Jeff Augustin’s mournful, folk-music-infused play now onstage at Signature Theatre. As a Haitian immigrant and his college-bound son share a car ride, unable to admit even pride or appreciation for each other, the things left unsaid will burden them for years to come.

That scene evokes a similar drive from the musical “Fun Home,” itself a master class in parent-child reflection. In both cases, the audience already knows the father will be gone too soon, leaving the child to contemplate unshared truths. As anyone who has drifted from and then lost a loved one before reconciling understands, the immediate loss burns and the enduring guilt smolders. But while “Fun Home” emphasized that irreparable tragedy, “Where the Mountain Meets the Sea” follows dueling perspectives and a time-transcending narrative toward emotional liberation.

Augustin crafted this gentle reverie alongside the Bengsons, the married folk-rock duo whose elegiac interludes and ethereal underscoring liven the tale without overwhelming it. The music comes in service of two intertwined monologues focused on journeys set decades apart: As the father, Jean, recalls a Florida-to-California venture he took with his wife when she was pregnant, his 34-year-old son, Jonah, recounts making the same trip in reverse before spreading his father’s ashes.

Inhabited by Robert Cornelius with easy charm and heartfelt sincerity, Jean finds a silver lining to undercut every curmudgeonly complaint. Sure, he traded his career as a schoolteacher in Haiti for a living handling people’s luggage at the Miami airport. He also rues his “monster” of a landlord, bemoans the U.S. education system and insists Floridian sand has nothing on Haitian sand. But with a smile and the occasional song, he relishes the American Dream all the same.

His son feels less at ease with his otherness. Played by Isaac “Deacon Izzy” Bell — the DuPont Brass vocalist who made an eye-opening theater debut in “Passing Strange” on Signature’s same Ark stage a year ago — Jonah is a queer man struggling to understand his roots and his relationships when he decides to retrace his parents’ steps. Along the way from Los Angeles to Miami, a run-in with a Nigerian heartthrob begins to recalibrate his fraught relationship with intimacy.

Cornelius and Bell are joined in director Timothy Douglas’s lush staging by musicians Awa Sal Secka and Rob Morrison. (They stand in for Abigail and Shaun Bengson, the show’s composers, who performed in the play’s 2022 premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club.) Playing the guitar, banjo and all manner of percussion, the alluring duo flood the space with the kind of soulful Americana that reminds Jean of Haitian folk songs. Therein lies one of Augustin’s smartly sketched through lines: the potency of sound, sight and smell as memory-inducing stimulants.

Tony Cisek’s rustic set, a wooden backdrop lined with an epoxy-like river design, is strikingly colored by hues of blue and green. (Harold F. Burgess II is the lighting designer.) Dane Figueroa Edidi’s choreography imbues the proceedings with loving embraces and parallel-emphasizing imagery, as Jean and Jonah intersect across time and space without interacting. If Douglas’s staging of “The Color Purple” at Signature in 2022 was a feat of maximalist emotion, this restrained endeavor is a tribute to the veteran director’s storytelling dexterity.

Jonah’s road trip concludes with a poignant and cathartic epiphany, but the understated ending left me wishing Augustin had laid down more runway before arriving at this final destination. There’s something to be said, however, for the heartstring-tugging peaks “Where the Mountain Meets the Sea” summits over a slim 80 minutes. It’s a lyrical play about fathers and sons, first and foremost. But it’s also about the immigrant experience and sexuality. Identity and self-reflection. Grief and release. A lot of terrain, in other words. But isn’t that what road trips are for?

Where the Mountain Meets the Sea, through July 7 at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. About 80 minutes. sigtheatre.org.



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