"Water By the Spoonful" by Quiara Alepria Hudes is an absolutely brilliant piece of dramatic writing. A Pulitzer Prize winner, it is also one of the most deserving scripts to have received that honor in recent years. The story of a group of online friends who share a common ground of drug addiction between them, the real achievement of this drama is the depth and insight into all of these individuals, the commonplace expressions of their unique struggles and the authenticity of every one of these lives. We learn so much about each of them, in some cases more than they learn about themselves, and it is done in such a spontaneous and natural way that nothing about this drama feels like anything but real life. This Theatre22 production, directed perfectly by Julie Beckman, engages a talented and committed cast to achieve an unforgettable journey into lives that we will never forget.
The fact that much of this interaction takes place online is made immediate by all of the characters sharing the same room, and in many ways the same lives. The set is a series of narrow paths on which they each occupy space for a limited time, connecting via a kind of physical world-wide web. For Odessa Ortiz, who goes by the screen name Haikumom, her role involves a good deal of censoring unacceptable language from the others, while also coming to terms with her own years of addiction. Her son, Elliot, is a veteran who received a serious leg injury in combat and is now trying to recover both his life and his integrity. He is also trying to overcome the persistent memory of a civilian he killed while in the service, and who has become a haunting presence in his life. The daughter, Yasmin Ortiz, is perhaps the most together of the characters, but that does not detract from her own profound struggles.
Also in this group is a middle-aged IRS agent who goes by the screen name Chutes and Ladders, and who is wonderfully and naturally played by G. Valmont Thomas. A young woman who goes by the screen name of Orangutan has to travel all the way to Japan, to the place of her birth, in order to integrate her origin and her current life. Finally, John, who goes by the name Fountainhead, is a very successful businessman with a lot of money and not a lot of self-identity. He is new to the group and he desperately struggles to overcome his own history of covert addiction, all the while denying that he is anything like these others. All of these individuals are distinct and thoroughly believable, and over the course of the drama their interactions with each other, and their self-revelations, both underscore and create the action. By the end of the play we realize that all of us are sustained by the tiny sips of "water by the spoonful" that is their shared sustenance, that keeps each of them going.
There is not a weak person in this cast. Jany Bacallao was terrific as the veteran Eliot, bringing strength to his role in the world and vulnerability to his life within himself. Equally effective was Yesenia Iglesias as Yasmin, in many ways the most secure person in the show, but still a true part of this group. As the mother, Odessa, Rose Cano brought a wealth of life experience and authenticity to the role. G. Valmont Thomas brought not only a good deal of humor to his role, but a great deal of life experience and wisdom hard earned in his own struggle to remain straight. Keiko Green was perfect as the vulnerable young woman who wants to not only uncover her origins, but to find her real place in the present. Jake Ynzunza does an excellent job in three relatively minor roles, as Professor Aman, the ghost that haunts Eliot, and an officer. Finally, Jeff Allen Pierce was flawless as John, the "success" who is filled with failure and considers himself above all the others, except for the fact that he has fallen into exactly the same world and circumstance in which they live.
I loved the Scenic Design by Montana Tippett which created an intimate, world-wide space that is only made smaller by these individual lives. All of the technical elements of this production were excellent, but what made this play work was the depth of the humanity and the integrity of their stories. There is not a single line of dialogue that does not feel thoroughly natural and spontaneous. Maybe it's hard for you to imagine the life of an addict, but this drama makes it clear that it is not really that much different than our own, that all of us struggle with the truth of who we are, what we are doing with our lives, and what we mean to each other. "Water By the Spoonful" is a substantial and moving triumph and not to be missed.
PICTURED ABOVE: Yesenia Iglesias, Jany Bacallao and Rose Cano in "Water By the Spoonful
PHOTO BY: Paul Lippert