A recovering crack addict offers online counseling to fellow former drug users as a young Iraq vet and his music prof cousin attempt to cope with the impending death of their aunt, the woman who raised him.
These two initially distinct plot threads come together—and powerfully so—in Quiara Alegría Hudes’s Pulitzer Prize winning Water By The Spoonful, now getting a superbly acted West Coast Premiere at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre.
The ex-marine is aspiring actor Elliot Ortiz (Rey Lucas), whose tour of duty in Iraq has left him wounded—both physically and emotionally. His cousin is Yazmin (Sarah Nina Hayon), whose recent divorce has left her with battle scars of her own.
Meanwhile, somewhere in cyberspace, Haikumom (Marilyn Torres) monitors online chats between www.recovertogether.com regulars like Chutes&Ladders (Keith Randolph Smith), an IRS man long estranged from his adult son, and Orangutan (Ruibo Qian), a young Asian-American raised by an Anglo family in Maine and teaching English these past three months in Japan, the country of her birth.
New to Haikumom’s group is Fountainhead (Robert Eli), a successful computer entrepreneur on Day One of an attempt to kick a Saturday crack habit before it becomes a weekday thing.
A seventh actor (M. Keala Milles, Jr.) plays three roles: the Iraqi ghost haunting Elliot’s dreams, the professor who gives Elliot the English translation of the cryptic Arabic phrase said ghost keeps repeating, and a Japanese policeman.
It’s not until a dramatic end-of-Act-One revelation that Water By The Spoonful’s two plot threads unite—and the Pulitzer winner ignites—but once it does, Hudes’s emotionally gripping, ultimately quite moving drama provides Los Angeles theatergoers ample reason to take a drive down San Diego way.
Though only one of Water By The Spoonful’s six main characters seems to have escaped drug dependency (even Elliot can’t stop popping pain pills prescribed following his four surgeries), Hudes’s play is less about recovery from addiction than it is about our need for human connections, even the virtual ones that provide a lifeline for Haikumom and her online “family.”
Water By The Spoonful is also that rare play to feature an intentionally multiracial cast. (When was the last time you saw a play with three Latinos, two Asian-Americans, an African-American, and only one WASP?) Not only does this make the recent Pulitzer Prize winner more truly representative of today’s racially/ethnically diverse America than just about any play out there these days, its rainbow-hued cast spotlights just how lily-white so much of today’s theater remains, or at least ends up being cast. (Be A Good Little Widow and God Of Carnage are two recent Old Globe hits that could have been cast multi-racially … but weren’t—for no other reason that casting decisions are still too often made “inside the box,” and not just at the Old Globe.)
Playwrights like Hudes, whose book for In The Heights scored her a Tony nomination, help remedy this inequity, and theaters and theatergoers are the richer for it.
Water For The Spoonful’s West Coast Premiere is performed by an East Coast cast that could hardly be more talented, nor give finer performances than those directed with assurance and nuance by Edward Torres. (One of Torres’s most effective choices is to have online conversations played face-to-face—as they feel to cyber friends—and not spoken into limbo other WBTS directors have apparently staged them.)
The Old Globe’s decision to have Water By The Spoonful performed in-the-round in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre proves an inspired one that keeps the audience up-close-and-connected to the world playwright Hudes has created.
Ralph Funicello’s eye-catching scenic design features jarring colors to symbolize our differences and intersecting lines to symbolize our connections. Jesse Klug’s evocative lighting and Mikhail Fiksel’s dramatic sound design (incorporating John Coltrane’s trademark dissonance) make Water By The Spoonful all the more potent, while David Israel Reynoso’s costumes fit each character’s personal choices to a T.
Casting out of New York is by Caparelliotis Casting. Jess Slocum is stage manager.
Kristin Leahey is assistant director, Sean Fanning assistant scenic designer, Shelly Williams assistant costume designer, Jan Gist dialect coach, George Yé fight consultant, and Sarah Kolman production assistant.
Only one play can win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama out of the hundreds of new plays produced each year. This fact alone makes Water By The Spoonful’s arrival at the Old Globe worthy of note. That it receives as all-around fine a production as the one mounted in San Diego gives Water By The Spoonful’s West Coast Premiere bona fide event status.
Old Globe Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego.
April 20, 2014
Photos: Jim Cox