Water by the Spoonful
Through Nov. 13, Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., (860) 527-5151, hartfordstage.org
What's on the main stage at Hartford Stage, Water by the Spoonful, was one of the plays from last year's Brand: NEW, the theater's annual festival of new play readings. Written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, author of the book for the Tony-Award winning musical In the Heights, this play is the second in a trilogy about the return to civilian life by a soldier who served in Iraq.
Water by the Spoonful serves up an engaging mix of six characters. It's not until the end of Act 1 that we figure out how a pair of cousins — Elliot (Armando Riesco), the soldier who is at the center of the first play in the trilogy, and Yazmin (Zabrina Guevara) — are connected to the other four.
That foursome uses an online chat room for ex-addicts, and though they've not met face to face, they have an easy, edgy intimacy. They form the support network crucial to keeping them all away from cocaine, one day at a time. It's revelatory how well the warmth and humor in their digital exchanges translates into dialogue.
Haikumom (Liza Colon-Zayás) is the maternal presence at the center of the chat room. She censors bad language and offers a haiku a day to her peers. Orangutan (Teresa Avia Lim) is a young Japanese-American woman, adopted when she was just 9 days old, raised in Maine, on the hunt for an authentic sense of identity. Chutes & Ladders (Ray Anthony Thomas) is a middle-aged African-American who mans the help desk phone line for the IRS. And Fountainhead (Matthew Boston) is the new guy, not yet over denial of his dependency.
But as wise as Haikumom seems in the context of the chatroom, she's got skeletons in the closet — or, as her son Elliott puts it in one memorable line: "She's an archaeological dig." Part of what this play addresses is how somebody can present one way in a particular setting and quite differently in another: an intriguing theme, heartbreaking here as it plays out through family loyalties and betrayals.The whole play swirls around questions of family: how do we absorb losses and failures in our family of origin, and how do we reconstruct our identities by constructing new families of our choosing?
Smart and contemporary, theatrical and moving, this new play makes you care about the characters you meet. As audience, we're an essential part of building the new American theater. Do your part by supporting this production.