In Court Theatre's "Water by the Spoonful," playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes shows the power that online friendships can make, especially when it comes to addiction. And sometimes digital friendships may be more comforting than physical friends and family -- or not.
Odessa Ortiz (played by Charin Alvarez) is a cocaine addict who has been clean for over six years. She starts an online forum for people trying to get over their own drug addiction and meets smart alecks: Chutes & Ladders (played by Dexter Zollicoffer) and Orangutan (played by Marissa Lichwick). The three of them form an online friendship and two of the three are territorial when a new user Fountainhead (played by Daniel Cantor) joins the forum.
Why be defensive about new users in a public forum? Not sure. But Fountainhead's resistance to admit he's an addict or tell his wife he's a two-year addict manages to work on the nerves of Chutes & Ladders quite a bit. But moderator Haikumom (played by Charin Alvarez) is having none of that. She's the censorship police and makes sure everyone plays nice.
But outside of digital life she's dealing with her own demons as an ex-addict. Haikumom is known as Odessa Ortiz to her son, Elliot Ortiz (played by Edgar Miguel Sanchez) and he knows her as more of a fly-by-night mother who left her sister to raise him. Odessa is also responsible for the death of her own daughter and Elliot's sister, Mary Lou, and he won't let her forget it.
Even when he's having nightmares about the four months he spent as a marine in Iraq and haunted by an Arabic man he killed (played by Anish Jethmalani), his mother seems to be a bigger agitator to him. Of course he has his cousin/jazz teacher Yazmin Ortiz (played by Yadira Correa) to calm him down when he's gone too far, but he keeps secrets from her, too.
And when Odessa "Haikumom" disappears online and the only person who can help her in Philadelphia while Yazmin and Elliot go to Puerto Rico to spread out the ashes of his aunt, Fountainhead has to make a decision. Should he help the one woman who came to his aid online when he was too scared to tell his family about his own addiction? What would his wife say about that?
Orangutan has only been clean for a few months, and Haikumom and Chutes & Ladders have five to seven years on her. So when the woman who grew up with adopted parents wants to meet her biological parents, Chutes & Ladders is skeptical. Will this take his online friend on a downward spiral? Will she receive the same reaction Chutes & Ladders did when he found out he had three grandsons who didn't know him? And when the 31-year-old woman suggests meeting him, he ponders whether he wants to keep the relationship in digital form only. Japan is a mighty far ride from San Diego anyway. Should he take the trip to meet someone almost two decades younger than him?
"Water by the Spoonful" does a great job of bringing humor into very dark topics. Orangutan's spunkiness is the highlight of the play even though she seems to be having the hardest time kicking the habit. Hudes gave her character the appeal of someone everyone wants to hang out with.
Jethmalani was another stimulating character, mainly because of how grim he was. He only had three small parts, but he managed to be one of the characters to want to know more about, haunting Elliot any chance he got. And why couldn't he get his passport back?
There were also visual enhancements that made the play fascinating to watch. Director Henry Godinez (maybe?) should be thanked for introducing the online characters in such a clever way. To have an online chat from different locations is an odd thing to do onstage. However, the online chat scenes didn't skip on details -- how the users talked to each other, the backgrounds behind each user, the way the stage was set up, and even how the users physically and visually saw each other in chat rooms.
The only cons were the teaching scene with Yazmin ran a bit long and didn't really do much for the play outside of amuse jazz fans. The obituary scene was about as depressing as a real funeral. And Sanchez laid it on kind of thick with the crying scenes. Some scenes would've been okay without the excessive crying, but considering all the mental battles he went through it was pretty obvious why he was so emotional. However, after awhile it seemed like he was balling or pouting in every scene when a melancholy word here and there would've done the trick. For a younger boy, it would've made more sense, but for a marine, is it unfair to expect him to have had a harder persona?
Besides the online chats, the hole in the middle of the stage was another constant source to catch the audience's eye. It's admirable that none of the actors accidentally fell inside of it because the hole was huge, and the actors kept lying, leaning and jumping around it. But with the hole that seemed to be in all of their hearts, the symbolism was not missed.
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