The second play in Quiara Alegria Hudes’ three-work “Elliot Cycle,” Water by the Spoonful, continues the story of Puerto Rican Elliot Ortiz, an honorably discharged Marine who served in Iraq and returns to America with a fair share of personal demons. The 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning Water … is now on stage at the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. The small space is conducive to a story that traffics heavily in connections – broken ones and ones aspired to. Further, a prevailing sense of claustrophobia deepens the personal hells of crack addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder and family tragedy. Yet Water by the Spoonful is uplifting in its moments of forgiveness and courage.
Elliot’s (Rey Lucas) struggles are many: He is addicted to pain pills. He is haunted by a specter from his military past. His adoption mother (his aunt) has died. He wants a Hollywood career instead of one making sandwiches at Subway. His birth mother is a recovering crack head. How much can one angry young man bear? The play’s parallel plot, which becomes one with the main in Act 2, involves a cyberspace chat site for crack addicts. The site manager is Odessa (Marilyn Torres), who happens to be that birth mother of Elliot’s from whom he is estranged. Conversing back and forth in cyber-recovery are “Orangutan” (Ruibo Qian) and “Chutes&Ladders” (Keith Randolph Smith), with a newbie to the site, “Fountainhead” (Robert Eli), fighting a battle of his own with denial. Trouble with this part of the play is that in today’s era of instantaneous texting and tweeting, chat-room conversation seems sooooo slow. Before the Odessa and Elliot stories converge in Act 2, the chat-site scenes in Act 1 feel like an interruption of the more urgent events of Elliot’s tumbledown life. That said, the Globe staging of the internet sequences, with use of laser-like connecting lines on the floor and in the rafters, is inspired, and to some extent the fledgling relationship between “Orangutan” and “Chutes&Ladders” is the play’s most satisfying element.
Edward Torres directs a visually powerful production that is rife with big statements – perhaps too many. Water by the Spoonful will leave you wrung out.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.