Water By The Spoonful -- A Fascinating Work by a Talented Young Playwright

By Bob And Karen Isaacs

Discovering a talented young playwright is always exhilarating. Right now at Hartford Stage, Connecticut audiences can share in that wonderful experience. Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes will by turn puzzle you, make you laugh and perhaps even shed a tear. It is a wonderful exploration of family and connectedness and our need for both.


Hudes is certainly not a novice playwright. She wrote the book for the Tony-winning musical, In the Heights, and her play, Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.


Water by the Spoonful is the second play in a trilogy begun with Elliot and it was commissioned by Hartford Stage when Hudes was the Aetna New Voices Fellow. This is a play about families -- the various kinds of families that exist.


The play revolves around six characters -- Elliot is a young man who has returned from Iraq where he has undergone multiple surgeries. He is haunted by a ghostlike figure who keeps repeating a phrase in Arabic that means "where is my passport." Elliot has been nursing his mother through the final stages of cancer and connects with his cousin, an adjunct professor of music at Swarthmore.


But we also become involved with an online community of recovering crack addicts: it is led by "HaikuMom" who regularly converses with "Chutes and Ladders" -- an African-American, middle-aged IRS employee -- and "Orangutan," a young Japanese girl who was adopted by American parents. "Fountainhead," a white upper middle class executive, wants to join the group but has difficulty admitting he is addict.


So how do these two worlds intersect? We don't find out until the end of the first act, when we learn that "HaikuMom" (Odessa) is Elliot's aunt. In the second act we learn that in reality, she is his mother who gave him up when she was addicted.


More connections between the online community and the real world -- between "Chutes and Ladders" and "Orangutan," Elliot and Odessa, and "Fountainhead" and Odessa occur during act two.


We see all of these characters try to make connections with their pasts -- and in Odessa and "Chutes and Ladders" cases children lost during their addictions -- and with each other. "Orangutan" is in Japan trying to locate her birth parents.


We care about them as they battle their demons -- and Elliot has his share -- and begin to face the future as more whole people than they were at the beginning.


Director Davis McCallum has done an outstanding job in taking what initially appears to be a collection of unrelated individuals and scenes and making it cohesive. Stick with it because it all makes sense. He is helped by the outstanding set design by Neil Patel, lighting by Russell H. Champa, and sound by Bray Poor. Various parts of the set raise from below the stage to give the multiple locations.


The cast is superb. Each capture his or her character -- from Matthew Boston's portrayal of "Fountainhead" awakening to his denial and addition -- to Armando Riesco as Elliot who also becomes more admitting to his demons. We particularly liked Teresa Avia Lim as "Orangutan" and Ray Anthony Thomas as "Chutes & Ladders." But perhaps the best performance is by Lisa Colon-Zayas as Odessa/"HaikuMom."


You need to get to Hartford Stage to see this wonderful new play.


Water By The Spoonful is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford, through Nov. 13. For tickets and information call the box office at 860-527-5151.


This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers Nov. 9, 2011 and online at Zip06.com.


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