San Diego Theater Review: WATER BY THE SPOONFUL (The Old Globe)

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by Tony Frankel on May 1, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

WATER IS THE GIFT OF LIFE

Marilyn Torres as Odessa Ortiz aka Haikumom and Rey Lucas as Elliot Ortiz in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres, April 12 - May 11, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.Water by the Spoonful is the second play in Quiara Alegria Hudes’ “Elliot Cycle,” three stand-alone plays written over an eight-year period. Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue, the first in the trilogy and a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, follows the title character, a perky but troubled Puerto Rican Marine serving a tour of duty in Iraq, and his family in Philadelphia. The final play, The Happiest Song Plays Last, which I saw at the Goodman in Chicago, explores Elliot’s journey towards peace and purpose as a lucky break in film and a cousin a half a world away put the realities of life into sharp focus. The second play, Water by the Spoonful, which has Elliott back in the States with a bum leg and domestic problems, made its world premiere at Hartford Stage and played Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre, winning the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Now, this poetic, bold, clever, and insightful drama that centers on Elliot’s guilt, anger, and remorse regarding war and family, arrives at The Old Globe with a sterling ensemble as one of the most satisfying and must-see events of the season.

(from left) Ruibo Qian as Orangutan, Marilyn Torres as Odessa Ortiz aka Haikumom, and Keith Randolph Smith as Chutes&Ladders in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres, April 12 - May 11, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

Tony nominated for the libretto of In the Heights, Hudes has degrees in playwriting (a master’s from Brown) and music (a bachelor’s from Yale). Each play in the triptych uses a different kind of music to trace Elliot’s coming of age: A Soldier’s Fugue utilizes the contrapuntal works of Bach, The Happiest Song Plays Last delves into community with Puerto Rican folk music, and Water by the Spoonful uses Coltrane’s restless harmonic movements to illustrate several narrative threads around a common theme: How do we deal with the past in order to exorcise the demons of the present? This explains Hudes’ lyrical, explosive, and stylish dialogue, even when she uses street or online slang.

Rey Lucas as Elliot Ortiz and Sarah Nina Hayon as Yazmin Ortiz in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres, April 12 - May 11, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

Hudes draws from true events and real-life family members to tell two concurrent stories. Just how these stories relate would be a spoiler, but know that cultural and familial lamentations will collide. Creating intrigue and suspense, Hudes’ beautifully evolving structure takes the lives of tormented, flawed characters through a journey of hope that never for a moment feels treacly or inauthentic.

Keith Randolph Smith as Chutes&Ladders and Ruibo Qian as Orangutan in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres, April 12 - May 11, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

Fidgety veteran Elliot (Rey Lucas) is not only stuck in a dead-end job at Subway while trying to instigate an acting career, he is tailed by an Iraqi ghost (M. Keala Milles, Jr.) and has an ailing mother; the latter connects him with his patient and successful (though not in love) cousin, a music teacher and composer named Yaz (Sarah Nina Hayon). Told concomitantly is the tale of Odessa (Marilyn Torres), a failed mom and recovering crack addict who spends all her free time serving as a site administrator to a chat room for struggling addicts (her online name is “Haikumom”).

Robert Eli as Fountainhead aka John and Marilyn Torres as Odessa Ortiz aka Haikumom in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres, April 12 - May 11, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

The three online addicts we encounter do not sit at computers but communicate directly to each other and the audience, as if we were part of the online community (a perfect touch for this in-the-round theater, and one of the many inventive ideas by director Edward Torres). The online inhabitants include “Orangutan” (Ruibo (from left) Rey Lucas as Elliot Ortiz, M. Keala Milles, Jr. as Ghost, and Sarah Nina Hayon as Yazmin Ortiz in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres, April 12 - May 11, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.Qian), a punkish Asian girl with loads of kinetic energy whose road to recovery will send her on a search for her birth parents; “Chutes&Ladders” (Keith Randolph Smith), a sarcastic, powerful, and righteous black man who has trouble connecting offline; and “Fountainhead” (Robert Eli), an erstwhile successful businessman to whom honesty does not come easily—he hides his nose candy problem from his emotionally troubled wife. Just wait and see how the real world and the virtual one overlap in unforeseen and surprising ways. Aiding the journey, which is sometimes filled with symbolism, is Jesse Klug’s astounding lighting design with fiber optics and directional spots.

Marilyn Torres as Odessa Ortiz aka Haikumom in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres, April 12 - May 11, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

Hudes evokes the futility of war without ever summoning contemporary politics, which makes this a timeless tale. Not everything is resolved in a tiny bundle at the end: Ghosts never completely disappear; forgiveness is an ongoing practice; and relationships are always in flux. Knowing that these co-exist as we move forward is both stirring and life-affirming.

Marilyn Torres as Odessa Ortiz aka Haikumom and Robert Eli as Fountainhead aka John in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres, April 12 - May 11, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.photos by Jim Cox

Water by the Spoonful
The Old Globe
1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park
scheduled to end on through May 11, 2014
for tickets, call (619) 23-GLOBE
or visit www.TheOldGlobe.org

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