Play Review: “Water by the Spoonful” at The Old Globe Theatre

Marilyn Torres as Odessa Ortiz aka Haikumom in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudess Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres, April 12 - May 11, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo Used With Permission From The Old Globe.
Marilyn Torres as Odessa Ortiz aka Haikumom in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres, April 12 – May 11, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo Used With Permission From The Old Globe.

The 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning play hits the Old Globe with themes of trauma and addiction.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Directed by Edward Torres
Written by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Starring Rey Lucas, Sarah Nina Hayon, Marilyn Torres, M. Keala Milles Jr., Ruibo Qian, Keith Randolph Smith
Runs April 12 to May 11
Location: The Old Globe Theatre

Marilyn Torres as Odessa Ortiz aka Haikumom in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres, April 12 - May 11, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo Used With Permission From The Old Globe.
Rey Lucas (“Believe,” “Blue Bloods”) brilliantly portrays a traumatized soldier broken by the Iraq War in the Old Globe’s latest play. Photo used with permission from The Old Globe.

A bathtub descending from the ceiling is one of the last things that comes to mind when considering a psychologically thrilling play about the Internet and post- Iraq war, but Quiara Alegria Hudes manages to stitch these together to invent an explosive, award-winning play. “Water by the Spoonful” chronicles the life of Elliot Ortiz (Rey Lucas), a former Marine now working as a cashier at a Subway while tormented by memories of serving overseas. Tackling psychological issues such as trauma and addiction, the play starts as two separate stories — in real life and on the Internet — that intersect.

There’s no doubt that Lucas possesses the charisma to pull off such a daunting lead role; Elliot is maimed by the war, and the actor conveys the tension seamlessly. Whether it’s quippy bickering with his ambitious older cousin Yazmin (Sarah Nina Hayon) or enduring the ghost of an innocent bystander (M. Keala Milles Jr.) he killed in the war, Lucas gives the audience the raw fear and passion needed.

Elliot’s life soon tangles with that of his biological mother, Odessa (Marilyn Torres), early in the play when he receives a call revealing that his adoptive mother has passed away. Odessa herself has another occupation: She runs an online chat room — on one of those ancient, pre-2000 PC computers — for crack addicts to prevent relapse, though her leadership is dubious at best as Odessa teeters relapse herself.

Photo used with permission from The Old Globe.
Drama Desk nominee Sarah Nina Hayon plays Elliot Ortiz’s cousin Yazmin in a complex story of family ties. Photo used with permission from The Old Globe.

With such a detailed story line, it would seem difficult to stage such a complexity; yet, the production each actor to accentuate key emotions for critical moments. There is no denying the brilliancy of the virtual chat room settings: Neon lights, in tandem with futuristic, 8-bit-esque transition music, reverberate across the room and convey a space of distant intimacy. Other moments, such as Elliot’s haunting trauma escalating overwhelmingly as the stage dims and the ghost — repeatedly demanding his passport in Arabic with a horrifying aggression — cloaked in scarlet light, magnifies the vengeful nature of the war.

Despite a hefty cast, the script manages to distribute enough growth for at least half the ensemble (which admittedly isn’t bad), but it makes it difficult for the viewer to keep track of connections among all eight characters. Despite that, the play makes the effort to fully flesh out Elliot and Odessa. Elliot, as a person, is beyond guarded; it isn’t until he can open up to his sister and biological mother, grappling with the dysfunction of his life in his injuries and scarring memories, that he begins to change. Hayon and Torres help to catalyze Lucas’s performance; Torres faces the difficult challenge of providing for the online and real world but does so almost seamlessly, providing a dynamic, tender character herself. She maintains order by moderating the online chat room but does so with humor, even though she is a remarkably tragic character.

“Water by the Spoonful” is a tall order — much more than a table- spoon — that requires demanding capability, but both the cast and production do an excellent job of filling the shoes of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by virtue of their tremendous talent.

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