Water by the Spoonful
By Roz Friedman
Many plays are issue driven. “Water by the Spoonful,” an interesting new play and the second in a trilogy by Quiara Alegria Hudes, is character-driven. Hudes, who received a Tony award nomination for Best Book of a Musical for the award-winning In the Heights, which was a Finalist for Pulitzer Prize, sharply etches each of her seven-member cast with painful precision. She also uses the internet to propel the action of the play in ways we have not seen before. Davis McCallum directs on Neil Patel’s widespread set lit intensely by Russell H. Champa that accommodates Philadelphia, San Diego, various cities in Japan, and Puerto Rico, as well as the many internet sites represented.
We are introduced to a pair of cousins: Elliot, 24, played energetically by Armando Riesco, a former Marine, who was injured in Iraq, wants to be an actor; he takes drugs and is bedeviled by nightmares from his time in Iraq. When the play opens, he is caring for the unseen but dearly-loved aunt, Ginny, who raised him; she is dying of cancer. Yazmin, a charming, intelligent Zabryna Guevara, is in her first year as adjunct professor of music, where she is in love with the jazz of John Coltrane. She tries to comfort Elliot. Of all the characters, she is the only one who is not addicted.
While the cousins are anticipating a funeral and how to raise money for flowers, we meet Odessa Ortiz, Elliot’s real mother. Liza Colon-Zayas gives an earthy portrayal of Haikumom, this founder of recovertogether.com, a website for struggling addicts, who need to connect; she is constantly talking to clients from her shabby home, giving them support and sage advice so they can remain clean. At first, we were a little confused, but it took a short time to get into the rhythm of these disparate people with unique user names. There is Orangutan, the clearly-spoken and lively Teresa Avia-Lin. Adopted, she is Japanese by birth, her real name is Madeline Mays, and originally, Yoshiko Sakai. When she decides to travel to Japan to find her birth parents, she unburdens her heart to Chutes & Ladders, an African-American man, who works for the IRS and has been deserted by his own family. In this role, Ray Anthony Thomas adds wonderful warmth, which is greatly missing from this play. He advises Orangutan not to go-that it will destroy her, but finally shows courage and joins her in Tokyo. Finally there is the wealthy Fountainhead (Matthew Boston), who feels he is only psychologically addicted, yet cannot confide in his wife.
Demosthenes Chrysan plays three parts: Professor Aman, the Ghost, who attacks Elliot, and Policeman. In Water by the Spoonful, a title that refers to a terrible incident with Odessa and her baby daughter, There are depressing moments, but things end on a hopeful note with Yazmin taking over Odessa’s website with the name Freedom&Noise. Water by the Spoonful will play thru November 13 at Hartford Stage.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS RADIO