Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
April 25, 2014
The title of the 2012 winner of the Pulitzer Prize, “Water by the Spoonful,” refers to doctor’s orders: how a mother can save her two seriously dehydrated young children. In different ways, it doesn’t end well for any of them. The title is also a metaphor for the gut-wrenching play and its colorfully flawed characters. Their heart-rending stories are doled out in small doses. And in each case, it takes one spoonful, one baby step at a time, to reach some semblance of recovery.
An array of seemingly disparate people desperately try to find human connection. They don’t always succeed. But they keep trying, which is the message here… reach out, push on, no matter how dissonant or incomprehensible the world may seem. The music of John Coltrane is also used as a metaphor, but somewhat less effectively.
Acclaimed playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes knows her subjects well. This is the second part of a trilogy set in her native Philadelphia, inspired by her Puerto Rican family. Everyone here is trying to break out of a confining life. Addiction takes many forms. For those in HaikuMama’s internet chat-room, the escape-hatch is crack cocaine. For Eliot, the angry, confused, haunted Iraq War vet, it’s pain pills from a leg injury and subsequent surgeries. For his cousin Yazmin, education is the way out. She has a music degree, teaches at Swarthmore, tries to distance herself from the family. But when her aunt, Eliot’s surrogate mother, dies, Yaz is sucked back in; it’s the uncontrollable lure of a drug, another neck-snapping ride on the pleasure/pain roller-coaster.
In this California premiere, the Old Globe has mounted a stunning production. The cast is superb; we come to really care about these six damaged souls. Expert director Edward Torres and an exceptional design team have created a magical space, where a ghost glides by in post-traumatic flashback and iridescent cables flicker during internet interactions. And a glorious final stage picture leaves an indelible, liquid image of bonding and helping and healing.
“Water by the Spoonful” runs through May 11, in the Old Globe’s White Theatre, in Balboa Park.
©2014 PAT LAUNER