Monday, October 26, 2015

Rave Review of Water By The Spoonful

Jany Bacallao and Yesenia Iglesias in Water by the Spoonful (Elise Swanson)
Water by the Spoonful
(at West of Lenin)
Through November 14, 2015

From the moment Water by the Spoonful begins, you are plunged into a turbulent story of deep family ties and resentments, and the challenges of lives lived in poverty and struggle. Who needs time for exposition? Let’s get this show on the road! The play, a 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner by Quiera Alegria Hudes, is one of the best scripts to hit our region’s stages in quite a while!

Directed by Julie Beckman, the tight 7-member cast has great support from a deceptively simple set by Montana Tippett, sound designer Kyle Thompson and lighting designer Tristan Roberson. In a moment, far into the 2 ¼ hour production, where a story is told that brings the title to life, water is poured from a spoon, and a hidden aspect of the set is revealed. It gave me goosebumps, it was so good.

Elliot Ortiz (Jany (Hah-nee) Bacallao), a troubled ex-Marine, and musicologist cousin Yazmin (Yesenia Iglesias) have an ailing aunt who dies. She is one of those saintly women who helps so many others that her absence is a blow to more than just immediate family. For Elliott and Yaz, it is that moment they must grow totally up and begin to take on the adult responsibilities, like heading the family as elders.
We then meet HaikuMom (Rose Cano), Chutes and Ladders (G. Valmont Thomas) and Orangutan (Keiko Green), pseudonymed members of an online recovery group. We soon find out that HaikuMom is Elliot’s birth mother and the connections between these disparate people begin to make sense.

A newly desperate addict (Jeff Allen Pierce) tries to find help from the group. Rounding out the cast, Jake Ynzunza plays several other key roles.

The play is not easily staged. It’s difficult for anyone to figure out how to make online “conversation” workable on stage, but Beckman’s choices make these interactions as accessible as possible. It’s hard to imagine better ways to do that. The location changes are also challenging, particular for a small space best used by a “unit” set (like a kitchen, a living room) and so Tippett’s wooden, circuitous walkway creates a sense of movement and space. West of Lenin is not a very tall theater space and lighting is a challenge most times. Then you raise the playing space up 3 feet and your lighting challenges increase a lot! Roberson’s ideas there are also creative and evocative.

The cast manages a host of emotions with dynamic results. There is not a dull moment in the show! There are mysteries to unveil and family secrets to learn. Ultimately, the star of the show is the script. When you start with material this strong, it’s kind of “on you” to ruin it. The only small weakness in the script is a bit of a predictableness in the “happy” ending. You won’t be surprised by much of the wrap-up. But it still is nice to walk out of the show feeling content with the characters.

Bacallao and Iglesias interact with satisfying familial connection, and Bacallao’s character goes through the heaviest changes. He has recently moved here and I look forward to seeing much more of his work. Iglesias’ character choices are strong and believable. It’s some of her strongest work, as well.

Cano is heartbreaking in the role that is difficult to like, yet completely understandable, in an awful way – as the mother who abandons her children for drugs, and then works to redeem herself with other people’s children.

This is a satisfying evening of theater from virtually every angle. Get your Google on, find West of Lenin and go see this production. I will challenge anyone not to find something worthwhile in this show.

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