Water by the Spoonful: A Powerful Story That Reminds Us That It Is Never Too Late To Start Again

Currently Playing at Cygnet Theatre Until April 24 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardasht

Photo Credit: Karli Cadel Photography
Something that I have been encountering lately is how different plays hit now after going through a pandemic, regardless of the topic, theatre is hitting me differently. Water by the Spoonful written in 2011 by Quiara Alegría Hudes, is a play about family, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and community. Part of a trilogy, Water, is the second part following Elliot A Solider's Fugue and finishing with The Happiest Song Plays Last.

Cygnet theatre did a pretty good job representing the plot that takes place in Philadelphia, Puerto Rico, Japan, and the internet. Elliot Ortiz (Steven Lone) is a young soldier that fought in Iraq and is back in his hometown of Philadephia struggling with PTSD, a leg injury, and working at a Subway. He is very close with his cousin Yazmin (Melissa Ortiz) who is a music professor at Swarthmore College and going through a divorce. Elliot has a recurring nightmare with a man that speaks to him in Arabic. Yaz arranges for Aman (Kaivan Ameen Mohsenzadeh), a colleague of hers in the Arabic Studies Department to translate the phrase in the nightmare which says "Can I please have my passport back?". Aman translates the phrase with the condition that Elliot contacts a documentary filmmaker friend of his who is looking to create a movie about the Iraq War.

Melissa Ortiz, Steven Lone. Photo Credit: Karli Cadel Photography

Aunt Ginny who raised Elliot just passed away and both Elliot and Yazmin are struggling with the cost of the funeral. Ginny is Odessa's sister who could not take care of his son Elliot due to being a crack addict. Now in her older age, Odessa (Catalina Dolores Maynard) is an online moderator for a Narcotics Anonymous support chat room. Her screen name is "HaikuMom" and she has a daily dynamic with her co-recovering addict chat members, Clayton-Chutes&Ladders (Bryan Barbarin) an IRS employee in his fifties, Madeleine-Orangutan (Emily Song Tyler) a young woman that was born in Japan, was adopted by white parents and grew up in Main. She has now returned to Japan to find her birth parents and, John-Fountainhead (Christian Haines) a former mogul that is married with kids but still using. Elliot is merciless with Odessa. The pain of abandonment is too great and he cannot get passed it. As they go and ask her for money for the services, they have a painful exchange, and Odessa overdoses shortly after. As she is in the hospital recovering, Yazmin takes over the chat and Elliot interrupts telling the room that she used again. As John is also in Philadelphia, Clayton begs him to care for Odessa and do whatever he has to do for her recovery as she has been there for them in the chat. 

Kaivan Ameen Mohsenzadeh. Photo Credit: Karli Cadel Photography
Yi-Chien Lee's simple set design with dark gray walls illustrates the story's atmosphere along with Minjoo Kim's lighting design and Blake McCarty's projections that also take us back to the messenger/chat room era. The props moving around to change the scenes kind of took me out of it at times. Still, the performances are solid. Meg DeBoard lands the complicated story well and passes feelings through the stage like both what it is to love your given family as your chosen family too. Steven Lone as Elliot is superb and even though Kaivan Ameen Mohsenzadeh has only one line that he repeats throughout the play, it is chillingly powerful. Bryan Barbarin's voice is deep and also gives chills. Danita Lee's costume designs are spot on but the best selection is Emily Song Tyler's outfits which look amazing and modern along with fluorescent hair extensions that give it a nice kick. Christian Haine's scenes with Catalina Dolores Maynard are raw, soothing, rounding out the story.

The second part of this trilogy is usually the most common for theatre companies to stage. I wish they would stage the other two as well, as they are great pieces.

Water by the Spoonful is a powerful story that exposes veterans' PTSD and, the intangible injuries that come from broken family relationships. It also reminds us that it is never too late to start over.

Currently playing until April 24th, for ticket prices and performance times please click here

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