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Arts & Culture

Ashland Review: Water By The Spoonful

Oregon Shakespeare Festival


by Dorothy Velasco

for broadcast on KLCC July 22, 2014

“Water by the Spoonful,” by Quiara Alegria Hudes, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Now playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Thomas Theatre, it’s an excellent choice for the intimate space.

The play, after all, is about loneliness and how we connect in today’s world. The staging by Shishir Kurup gives us a closeup view of the tormented characters’ longing, anguish and humanity, and their efforts to reach out and help each other. Thankfully, they offer us a hearty serving of humor even in the roughest of times.

Before the play starts the first thing we notice is the set by Sibyl Wickersheimer, a tiered series of quadrangles. After the action begins we realize they are laptop screens the size of small rooms, representing the electronic homes of the characters.

The action takes place in 2009, occurring almost entirely online in a figurative chat room for recovering crack addicts hosted by Haikumom, played with passion and pathos by Vilma Silva. Haikumom, her online name, is a Puerto Rican who has nearly OD’d several times. Years before, she gave up her son to be raised by Mami Geni, her community-activist sister who dies at the start of the play. The son Elliot, now a young man with PTSD, is a veteran of the war in Iraq.

His cousin Yazmin is a music professor and the new self-appointed matriarch of the family upon the death of the exemplary Mami Geni.

In the chat room Haikumom tries to help Chutes&Ladders, a middle-aged IRS worker bee; Orangutan, a bright young woman adopted as a baby from Japan by an American couple; and Fountainhead, a former entrepreneur.

Unless they make an effort to meet, they never see each other, but they feel a bond of loyalty and sympathy across thousands of miles. When Orangutan, wonderfully played by Celeste Den, wants Chutes&Ladders to visit her, she says she knows what he’s like. He was the kid who colored inside the lines. But he replies, “I’m the kid who ate the crayons.”

Considering the constrictions of the play’s format, there’s a surprising amount of action and conflict. The author has structured the dialogue to reflect the jazz of John Coltrane, giving dissonance equal standing with harmonic resolution.

“Water by the Spoonful” has closed for two months to allow a limited run of another play in the Thomas Theatre, but it returns from September 4 to November 2. I highly recommend it. The characters and their dilemmas will stay in your thoughts, and if we’re lucky, one day we’ll see the play’s sequel, “The Happiest Song Plays Last.”

This is Dorothy Velasco with KLCC’s Ashland Review.

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