Water By The Spoonful

Players by the Sea presents Quiara Alegria Hudes‘ Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Water by the Spoonful,” which, after opening on August 22, 2014 will run through September 6. The production is staged in the Studio Theatre at Players in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. For reservations, call 904-249-0289 or visit playersbythesea.org.In the Heights,” an earlier work by Ms. Hudes, received a Tony for Best Musical in 2007. “Water” debuted in Connecticut at the Hartford Stage in 2011, and was awarded the coveted Pulitzer in 2012. It opened in New York in January 2013, and ran for one month. Notes prepared by Resident Dramaturg Holly Gutshall are posted on Players’ website and are recommended reading, as they provide helpful insights into the background of the playwright and the evolution of the characters.

The play is centered around the experiences of the members of an extended Latino family, and their struggles with relationships and addiction, but also involves others who are in recovery and actively engaged in overcoming addiction. There are actually two plot lines and while it may seem like you are seeing two different plays, the stories merge together as the script progresses.

THEATRE_Water-SpoonfThe play opens with Elliot (Kyle Geary), an ex-Marine who served in Iraq, trying to rebuilt his life, while coping with his service disability (leg wound) and haunted by his memories of the war. He works at a sandwich shop, while acting as a caretaker to the dying aunt who raised him. His older cousin, Yaz (Abigail Sanez), gives some assistance, but has her own problems, the aftermath of an emotional divorce.

Elliot has aspirations and hopes of becoming a movie star, which are heightened when he meets Professor Aman (Scott Peeler) who is planning a movie about the Iraq conflict, and wants Elliot as part of the team. Difficulties arise when his aunt dies and Elliot and his cousin need to make funeral arrangements, but don’t have the money that is needed.

The story shifts to four other characters, who congregate in a chatroom on a website; a chatroom that is quite specialized, for “crack heads trying not to be crack heads.” The chatroom is run by Odessa, a Puerto Rican woman who uses the handle Haikumom. She is six years clean and has strict rules for the participants: no personal names, no personal attacks, and watch your language.

The other three are a diverse group. The middle-aged five years clean “Chutes& Ladders (Eugene Lindsay) is a government paper pusher, whose incentive to kick drugs occurred when his grown son refused to let him visit his three grandchildren. Orangutan (Kristin Alexander) is a young Japanese woman who was adopted as a child by an American couple, who brought her to the states. She has returned to Japan to try to locate her birth parents, and is ninety days clean. The two develop a romantic interest in each other despite differences of age, race, and culture, and she persuades him to leave the states and meet her in Japan. The final chatroom visitor is Fountainhead (Bradley Akers), a crack smoker for two years, who recently lost his high-salaried position as a corporate executive, and is three days clean at the time of this session. He has never told his wife and family about his problems with addiction.

The stories merge when we learn that Odessa is Elliot’s birth mother and he demands that she contribute money to help buy flowers for the funeral. Unfortunately, she has no financial resources; however, she offers to sell her computer to help.

How does this end? All these interesting people are seeking human connections while trying to maintain the strength to avoid returning to the entrapment of addiction. Do they succeed? Do they find acceptance? Redemption? We leave this for you to discover when you see the play.

This is the directing debut of Pablo Gonzalez and he certainly took on a challenging play for a debut. His casting is good, and his real-life characters are well-delineated and often unexpectedly engaging.

From the biographies in the program, this was Kyle Geary’s first leading role. He certainly looked the part of the returned veteran hoping for a better life. His performance was good, but at times during the opening night performance, he tended to rush his lines and the dialogue was difficult to understand.

Abigail Saenz is an excellent choice as Yazmin, who teaches music at Swarthmore; Saenz is convincing in her portrayal of the family member who has the strength and stability to provide support to her troubled cousin. Ms. Gowan, as Odessa, continues to build an impressive resume of challenging roles with theatres throughout the area.

Eugene Lindsay, recently winner of the Players’ Best Actor Award for the 2013-2014 season, provided much of the humor in this play, thanks to his talent (and the script). And while Kristin Alexander is not Asian, she did well with the portrayal of her Japanese character who finds romance on-line.

Bradley M. Akers, while better known in the local theatre world for his directing talents, was very believable as the wealthy, privileged executive. He is in his mid-twenties, but has already directed two plays that were selected as the season’s best at Players. Scott Peeler appeared in three roles, as the professor, as a ghost from Iraq, and as a policeman. Peeler , a JU graduate, now has appeared in almost all of our local theatre venues

Anne Roberts created the set for this production and had to make an interesting choice. What kind of set do you do for a play with 15 or so scenes and no curtain? A play that moves from Philadelphia, to California, Japan and Puerto Rico? Roberts used a back wall painted blue with abstract areas of color that perhaps represent geographic areas of world, tied together with cyber connections.

Director Gonzalez’s able support team included: Laurel Wilson as Assistant Director, Jim Wiggins as the Lighting Designer, Irma Gonzalez in her debut as a Costume Designer and Monica Celeste Martorell doing the Stage Managing. Additionally, art by Juan Chavez was exhibited in the Grune Family Gallery.

This thought- provoking play is one that demands you listen, and in return, offers an affirming message.


About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.