Water By the Spoonful

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater
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Water by the Spoonful, a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, is the story of several characters intertwined through online relations and family connections. Initially staged in 2011, Spoonful is the middle play of a collection referred to as The Elliot Trilogy.

Now Spoonful is onstage in the Studio Theatre at the Long Beach Playhouse, through August 17. Under the puzzle-like direction of Ryan Holihan, this second entry in The Elliott Trilogy comes together piece-by-piece and without the benefit of seeing Elliot, A Soldiers Fugue (the first of the dramas) or The Happiest Song Plays Last (the last drama of the trilogy), though one’s curiosity about the other two-thirds of Elliot’s story is bound to be piqued. That’s a tribute not only to Quiara Alegría Hudes abilities as a dramatist but also to Holihan’s directorial skills.

Elliott Ortiz (played with a masculine innocence by Marco Estrada) is a veteran of the Iraq War where he served in the Marine Corps and suffered an  injury to one of his legs that has resulted in a limp and chronic pain. He currently is employed as a “sandwich artist” at Philadelphia Subway shop.

The show begins with Elliott meeting with his cousin, Yazmin Ortiz, who is employed as an adjunct music instructor at a local college (Maria V. Oliveira is credible in her devotion to Elliot and competent in her position as a music teacher). Elliot has requested that Yazmin enlist a fellow college linguistic professor (a solid Jonathan Garcia, does double duty by also embodying a Middle Eastern dream figure who seems to haunt Elliot’s memory) to translate a sentence written in Arabic that has been weighing heavily on his mind. On its surface the simple translation conveyed by Professor Aman appears innocuous: “Can I please have my passport back.”

In addition to the face-to-face interactions we see on stage, we also witness interactions in cyber-life involving a chat room devoted to people who are struggling with or recovering from addiction. This group’s putative facilitator has as the username Huikumom. Others participating in this cyber-support group also are identified by their usernames. There’s Orangutan, who’s new to sobriety and  logging in from Japan (Rose Kim is mesmerizing in this challenging characterization); there’s Chutes&Latters, who’s computing from San Diego and who takes a particular interest in Orangutan’s recovery (Robin Harrison brings a workaday naturalism to this role); and there’s Fountainhead, who signs in to the chat room seeking support to battle his addiction to crack cocaine (Jeff Jacobs in a solid and sordid portrayal).

Melding together a diverse group of characters from various places around the world in real time and in cyber time to address issues of injury, addiction, death, despair, and recovery is a difficult task to successfully dramatize. Nevertheless, in two-hour and in two-acts (including one intermission) and with the stagecraft supplied by set designer Stacy Stone, lighting designer Donald Jackson, sound designer Allison Mamann, and costuming by Christina Bayer, Water by the Spoonful succeeds as a theatrical experience and waters this writer’s flowering interests in seeing Quiara Alegría Hudes’s other Elliot plays staged.

Water by the Spoonful continues in the Studio Theatre of the Long Beach Playhouse. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 East Anaheim Street, Long Beach. Water by the Spoonful continues through August 17. Evening performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are on Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations call (562)494-1014. For online ticketing and further information visit lbplayhouse.org.