Photo: Beth Hall Photography
We need connections, crave connections, go to amazing lengths to merely attempt a connection.
Even so, interacting with others is a messy endeavor. Sometimes a friendship with a stranger a continent away is stronger and healthier than one with a family member living in the same neighborhood. And these connections get further muddied in the Internet age, considering people have the opportunity to mask – or worse – their online persona.
This element of searching for togetherness runs as the central theme of “Water by the Spoonful,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Quiara Alegria Hudes. “Water by the Spoonful” made its Northwest Arkansas debut Oct. 15 courtesy of TheatreSquared, who will offer the work through Nov. 8 at Nadine Baum Studios in Fayetteville.
What: TheatreSquared’s performance of “Water by the Spoonful,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Quiara Alegria Hudes.
When: Wed-Sun through Nov. 8
Where: Nadine Baum Studios, Fayetteville
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or theatre2.org
TheatreSquared’s able version unfolds as a complicated, thought-provoking and thoroughly modern affair. The work’s central character may be Elliott (played by Edgar Miguel Sanchez), an Iraq war veteran who carries around the physical, emotional and mental scars of battles. Everyone in “Water by the Spoonful” is fighting a battle, however, sometimes with Elliott. There’s his close friend, cousin and confidant Yazmin (played by Caro Zeller), who ascended through the ranks of their large Puerto Rican family to become a college lecturer but wants more. Speaking of family, the duo interacts with Odessa (Yadi Correa), six years clean but fighting against the urge to use cocaine every hour, and that’s on her best days. She serves as the administrator of a website for former users like herself. Online, she interacts with anonymous forum users the audience comes to know by self-appointed handles such as OranguTan123 and Fountainhead. They appear in the current production on a bare stage, bathed in a square of light with their profile picture appearing behind them. Conveying, translating and then staging the faceless anonymity of the Internet is a difficult task for any theatrical production, but “Water by the Spoonful” and Seth Gordon’s direction for
TheatreSquared take you into that world rather inventively and convincingly. The play moves quickly, powerfully and between worlds. TheatreSquared’s touches add heft to the experience. Little things like actual steam coming from an actual cup of coffee, a bathtub containing water and a scenic design element reserved only for the last act add up to be the big things. TheatreSquared, they prove again with “Water by the Spoonful,” invests all effort into providing professional work. That also includes bringing in a fresh roster of talent for the production. None of the actors involved in the current rendition of “Water by the Spoonful” have appeared in a previous TheatreSquared production. There’s some real talent there.
Hudes’ work, which debuted in 2011, seeks to capture some of the lingo of an online discussion with a few LOLs and a rather bitter takedown of a new user to the sobriety forum – the world is rarely an uglier place than where anonymous online commenting is allowed. The theater world is bloated with plays where characters love to talk, sometimes just to say things. Even in that crowded environment, “Water by the Spoonful” contains a comparatively high number of self-styled, capital letter important! moments. Some never alter the room. But at its best, Hudes’ language ripples through the crowd. I caught chills more than once, and not just because the dialogue had silenced the room so thoroughly you could hear the venue’s ventilation system buzzing quietly in the background. Some 12 hours removed from my viewing of “Water by the Spoonful,” I’m still haunted by some of the elements.
Everyone in the production is haunted by someone or something, from the fear of taking a trans-Pacific flight to a rather ghastly apparition that surfaces at times of tragedy. We’re reminded throughout “Water by the Spoonful” that sometimes those demons catch us, sometimes only for a day, but that we must not stop moving forward.
Forum guests in “Water by the Spoonful” spend much of their time discussing their number, which represents how many days they’ve been clean. Sometimes, those numbers reset to zero.
And all times, we’re reminded that today can be number one, if we choose.