Set the Stage for ‘Spoonful’
Water by the Spoonful, a 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning play written by Quiana Algeria Hudes and directed by PeggyAnne Siegmund, plays now through July 23 at The Actors' Group at Dole Cannery.
I had the opportunity to attend the preview this past Thursday. The play is well-crafted, weaving two storylines together through alternating scenes that, by its end, blends into a solid piece of storytelling. We first meet two cousins; Yazmin Ortiz (Amrita Mallick) and Elliot Ortiz (Tyler Gentile). Elliot needs a translation from a professor friend of Yazmin. Elliot is a veteran of the war in Iraq and is haunted by a spirit who repeats in Arab, “Can I have please have my passport back?”
Meanwhile, chat room users who go by the handles of Chutes&Ladders (James C. Roberts) and Orangutan (Christine Umipeg-Apilado) enter a chat room on their computers. We find that it is a chat room for recovering drug addicts. As the play bends and winds through each scene we learn that members of this chat room give each other support, and the bonds they forge are strong. There is a third member, Haikumom (aka Odessa) played by Cindy Ramirez who leads as the moderator/facilitator of the chat room. She also brings in another user, Fountainhead (Thomas T.C. Smith). In Act Two we learn that Haikumom, or Odessa, is also the biological mother of Elliot. Elliot’s adopted mother, Ginny, Odessa’s sister, has passed away from cancer and he and Yazmin scramble to attend to the funeral arrangements. They meet with Odessa to ask for money to help pay for flowers for the funeral service, money which Odessa does not have. This leads Elliot to remind Odessa how his sister died and Yazmin describes Odessa’s erratic behavior towards the family. Odessa gives them the keys to her apartment telling them to pawn her computer and use the proceeds towards the flowers. All of this, and we are only a few scenes into Act 2 with a lot more to be revealed!
The ensemble play their characters well. Ramirez shows her skill as a veteran actor, bringing Odessa to life. Her characterization draws the audience in as we see a fleshed-out Odessa with all her faults and merits. Gentile plays Elliot with an even hand and will be interesting to watch in future productions. Special mention goes to Umipeg-Apilado who finds nuance in her portrayal of Orangutan, an addict who reaches out for help from her online friends to keep her from backsliding into a much-wanted high.
While I enjoyed the storytelling of the entire ensemble, I found myself in a constant battle with of all things, the set. As we all know, the set at TAG is a very small space, and as such becomes, like all sets (and maybe even more so), another character, another part of the play. Each chat room user has their own space or level on the stage. So that leaves a very small area for the “real world” of Elliot and Yazmin to accommodate. With levels and lighting and characters vying for attention in the clutter, concentration is most crucial. However, this was a preview, a final dress rehearsal if you will, and if this was an issue I hope it was addressed and if not… well, maybe it was just me? But bring your concentration anyway, Water by the Spoonful is a story worthy of your attention.