Review: Water by the Spoonful Continues a Soldier's Story at Curious

Thony Mena as Elliot in Water by the Spoonful.
Thony Mena as Elliot in Water by the Spoonful.
Curious Theatre Company

Water by the Spoonful is the second in a trilogy of plays by Quiara Alegría Hudes being shown as part of Curious Theatre Company’s serial storytelling project. The third, The Happiest Song Plays Last, opens next February; the first, Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue, was presented in March. But artistic director Chip Walton has had his eye on Hudes for a while, having put on her 26 Miles in 2009.  All three plays in the trilogy deal with an Iraq vet, a man from a Puerto Rican background now recovering from a war wound, working in a Philadelphia sandwich shop and trying to steady his memory-plagued life.

Water by the Spoonful is by far the best of Hudes’s works that we’ve seen so far. Here we watch the interactions between Elliot and his cousin Yazmin as they deal with the death of his surrogate mother, Ginny, whose warm, healing presence suffused the previous play. These interactions supply a kind of framework for what at first seems an unrelated plot: a group of recovering drug addicts conversing on a chatline monitored by Odessa, herself a recovering addict. Their stories sometimes echo themes we hear in Elliot’s story. All of them are lonely, feel exiled and are reaching for companionship and comfort. It’s only later that we discover the link between the two narratives and a series of wrenching developments follows.

The writing is subtle and fluid, and Hudes has created characters more multi-faceted and vivid than those in the previous plays. Most of the acting is excellent, particularly Gabriella Cavallero as caring Odessa; Abner Genece as the wise, apparently resigned chat grouper nicknamed Chutes&Ladders; and Jenna Moll Reyes playing Orangutan, a Japanese adoptee with yearnings for the homeland she never knew.

But this production, the season opener, is in some ways oddly muted — too much shadow, too many dark shapes of furniture on stage that seem to dwarf the actors. A supernatural occurrence is handled clumsily, and there’s an overall lack of intimacy that keeps us a little too distanced from the characters and their urgent concerns.

Thony Mena in Curious's 2015 production of Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue.
Thony Mena in Curious's 2015 production of Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue.
Michael Ensminger

For those who missed the first part of the trilogy, at 7 p.m. tonight Curious will host a live reading of  Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue; admission is free, but donations will be taken at the door.  Water by the Spoonful, is presented Thursdays through Sundays through October 15; on September 17 and 29, there will be pre-show explorations of "The Jazz Infusion: How Coltrane influenced Water by the Spoonful," with Lamont School of Music professor Art Bouton. Curious is located at 1080 Acoma Street; get more information at 303-623-0524 or curioustheatre.org.

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