Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 2, 2011

Water by the Spoonful

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through November 13, 2011
by Kait Rankins

In this world premiere drama by Quiara Alegria Hudes, “Water by the Spoonful” seems like two separate plays: the first about an Iraq war veteran and his cousin coping with his mother’s death, and the second about a group of recovering drug addicts seeking support in an online chat room. The two storylines are revealed to be deeply intertwined by the end of Act I.

With a play that can easily trip over itself with its complicated settings and heavy subject matter, director Davis McCallum handles everything with a light touch. The settings ebb and flow with quick, quiet changes and shifts in lighting, and cyberspace settings are brilliantly presented with the characters’ avatars projected on the back panel. What could have been clunky and confusing is instead clear.

Hudes’ beautiful writing is wordy and complex, handled effortlessly by seven actors: Armando Riesco (Elliot), Zabryna Guevara (Yazmin), Lisa Colon-Zayas (Odessa), Theresa Avia Lim (Orangutan), Ray Anthony Thomas (Chutes&Ladders), Matthew Boston (Fountainhead), and Demosthenes Chrysan (Professor Aman/Ghost/Officer). In their hands, Hudes’ words are light and quick, between poetry and realistic dialogue, and yet never unnatural. The dramatic themes of addiction, parental neglect, post-traumatic stress, and mourning could  easily pass into self-indulgent melodrama, but they never cross that line. Instead, the result is both funny and heartbreaking, with characters that are easy to care about.

“Water” is about connection. Connecting with one’s family, connecting with strangers over long distances, and the bravery it takes to make (and repair) those bonds. The actors succeed not only connecting with each other, but with the audience, taking the audience on a journey of twists and turns and numerous storylines tied up together.

The second in a trilogy that begins with “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” (a Pulitzer Prize finalist) and will end with “The Happiest Song Plays Last,” “Water” leaves the audience wanting to know more about where the characters came from and where they will go. For audience members needing more, Hartford Stage provides copies of “Elliot” (autographed by the author) in the gift shop.