TheatreWorks, one of my very favorite theater companies, has an amazing show now playing through September 14. Water By the Spoonful is a Pulitzer Prize winning drama by the Tony Award winning playwright of In the Heights, Quiara Alegría Hudes. It combines drama and comedy as it works through the never ending trials of being an addict, specifically a crack addict. In one of the two main storylines, we follow a calm, reasonable woman known as “Haikumom” as she runs an internet support group for a group of addicts. Among the other members of the chatroom are “Orangutan”, a brash and caustic young woman who is lonely for human contact, and “Chutes&Ladders”, a man who has lost everything but is struggling to regain some sort of meaningful life and manage to stay sober with the help of his chatroom friends.
In the other main story apart from the chatroom we have Eliot, a troubled Iraq war veteran who now works at Subway, and his cousin. A woman in their family has passed away, and they are at the foreground of the stage as they work out the logistics of the funeral.
But what do these stories have in common? Quite a lot, it is eventually revealed, and every character in the story has their own back story and a future to live as well. There are many things happening in this play, and the great stage design really helps clarify where each character is at any time without confusing the audience. The lighting and projections make it clear whether we are in an online or offline world, and we also get to see the hidden situations of each character. It is an amazing, complicated work, and everyone involved in this show has done an incredible job creating a very touching and thoughtful production.
I found it interesting to discover later that Water By the Spoonful is part of a series called the “Elliot Trilogy”, portraying the coming of age of the young Elliot Ortiz. This explains a lot, as Elliot appeared to be such an important part of this show, yet his story was the least clear of any of the characters. It is not that his story was incomplete, just that the others were mostly wrapped up (as tidily as a crack addict’s story can be wrapped), but Elliot’s background and future were not as clear to me. This not only makes me want to see more of Elliot’s story, but necessitated some discussion with my guest after this show as we pondered Elliot. There were several questions I had about Spoonful after, but in a good way; instead of a review, I wanted to write a literary essay about all the different layers at play here. I wasn’t satisfied with the end result of every character, and that caused me to think about them after the show. Any time I am left pondering and wanting to have conversations after a show, that is when you know theater has been done well. This show captures such a range of emotions, and really enforces the value of family and community. It also shows how, even if those can’t be had, just a bit of kindness and human contact can save a life.