Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Redemption Dispensed One Drop At A Time: "Water By The Spoonful" by Quiara Alegria Hudes - Another Triumph by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Johnny Lee Davenport, Mariela Lopez-Ponce, Gabriel Rodriguez, Sasha Castroverde -
Photo by Mark S. Howard

The 40th Anniversary Season of the Lyric Stage Company of Boston continues with yet another triumph.  The current production of "Water By The Spoonful" is a deeply moving and nuanced presentation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Quiara Alegria Hudes.  This play is the middle work of a trilogy that explores on many levels relationships within families and broader communities - some tangible and some virtual.  Under the direction of Scott Edmiston, a gifted cast of actors dive deeply into a swirling pool of emotions and relationships.  The playwright draws from her well of experiences in her family, her neighborhood in Philadelphia and her broader understanding of human dynamics within strained relationships where redemption is needed and is given out one drop at a time.

Issues of drug addiction, PTSD, parental abuse and neglect, and lingering guilt flow together in a whirlpool of overlapping relationships.  The play brilliantly weaves together an extended family in extremis and an on-line virtual community for crack addicts.  In Act II, the two worlds interact in stunning ways as the author explores the differences and similarities between virtual relationships and those that exist face-to-face.

As she did so well in writing the book for "In The Heights," Ms. Hudes has created characters that are both memorable and accessible.  I came to care deeply about the fate of each one.

Sasha Castroverde plays Yazmin Ortiz, the cousin of a recovering war veteran, Elliot.  She is a rock, and functions as the emotional center of the play.  Her stunning sacrifice at the end of the play strikes a powerful chord.  Ms. Castroverde's warmth and calm spirit cast a glow over the entire production.

Johnny Lee Davenport is Chutes & Ladders, the on-line name of a recovering drug addict.  Mr. Davenport's speaking and singing voice reminded me of both Paul Robeson and James Earl Jones.  The strength of his vocal powers makes the vulnerability and neediness of the character that much more poignant.

Gabriel Kuttner plays the disintegrating businessman, Fountainhead, whose drug addiction threatens to pull him down the drain.

Mariela Lopez-Ponce plays Odessa/Haikumom. She is the administrator of an on-line chat room and support group.  In that role she is the very model of strength and reliability.  In her real life, as the drug addict who failed her children tragically, she is deeply flawed and in need of redemption.  One of the most moving scenes in the play is the one pictured above as she kneels and mimes dispensing water by the spoonful.

Theresa Nguyen is Orangutan, an addict who goes to Japan to try to find her birth mother.  Ms. Nguyen plays her brilliantly as a complex web of contradictions - saucy and vulnerable, confident and timorous, independent and needy.

Zaven Ovian plays several roles,  but the most significant and memorable is that of the ghost of an Iraqi who dies at the hands of Elliot.

Gabriel Rodriguez plays Elliot Ortiz, a wounded and haunted warrior whose physical presence on stage portrays eloquently the physical and psychic wounds that have been inflicted upon him on the battlefields of family and of Iraq.

Scenic Designer,  Richard Wadsworth Chambers, Lighting Designer, Karen Perlow, and Video Designer, Amelia Gossett have created an ecosystem on stage that allows parallel stories to be told in real time and in the virtual world.  Single cords dangling from the ceiling suggest circuits needing to be completed and connections begging to be made among characters.  Video screens allow the audience members to see the text messages that are being spoken by the chat room denizens.

Gabriel Rodriguez, Sasha Castroverde -
Photo by Mark S. Howard
The water motif is a powerful one.  Each character is - in his or her own way - a fragile flower needing to be watered to keep from withering under the desiccating effects of life.  The play is a celebration of life and hope and redemption despite the forces that would seek to extinguish these positive connections among community members.

This is a play not to be missed.  There are only twelve performances remaining, beginning tomorrow evening. Order your tickets now.



Through November 16


Water by the Spoonful
by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Directed by Scott Edmiston

Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes
Box Office: 617-585-5678 | boxoffice@lyricstage.com
Production sponsored by Julian & Barbara Cherubini
Water by the Spoonful, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Quiara Alegría Hudes, is a moving collage of lives in crisis. A group of seemingly unrelated characters search for human connection in a harsh and destabilizing world, looking for hope among their new-found “family.” One by one, the troubled souls find acceptance, connection, even redemption, in this lyrical and lucid new play. 

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