Anecdote: Many years ago, I worked with a young man who happened to be gay. Every time there was a new hire, he would ask me if they were ‘family’?
I later learned that he was really asking me if they were gay or lesbian as the case was then, ‘family' was simply the code word for gay.
How the word ‘family’ has evolved over the years matters in Quiara Alegria Hudes Pulitzer Prize winning 2011 play “Water By The Spoonful”. It is the second in her Elliot cycle beginning with “Elliot, a Soldiers Fugue (which showed here years ago at the now defunct Ion) that starred a young Steven Lone, and ends with “The Happiest Song Plays Last”).
“Water” replaced "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812" because of the Russian war themed musical and current events in Ukraine.
Hude’s play goes back a while in time to the Iraq war where Puerto Rican born Elliot Ortiz, (an older, more matured Steven Lone) six years later is back in Philadelphia, where he is a veteran with an injured leg from the war. He’s an aspiring model actor, but for now he works at Subway Hoagies where he makes bupkies. That’s the least of his troubles. Elliot is still hung up with nightmares about his time overseas and his addictions. He is suffering from PTSD and can’t erase the memories of the horrors of war. One character that keeps coming up in Elliot’s dreams is his ghost from the past (Kaivan Ameen Mohsenzadeh).
|Melissa Ortiz and Steven Lone
At present he’s taking care of his adoptive mother Ginny who is near death and has no help save for his cousin Yazmin or Yaz (Melissa Ortez) who, for the moment is his closest relative/ cousin. She is an adjunct professor of music who would rather be playing Jazz than teaching it. be She is in the process of divorcing her husband and has the most lucrative job of the family. But for now, she’s preoccupied with her divorce. Elliot’s biological mother Odessa aka Haikumom (Catalina Maynard) is a recovering crack addict and founder of a website/chatroom recovertogether.com. She lives on the edge and does janitorial jobs to keep herself going.
|Christian Haines, Catalina Maynard, Melissa Ortiz and Steven Lone
The scenes seesaw back and forth from chat room to Steven’s anxieties and worries about Ginny to the on line chats between the several recovering (maybe one day or three months) addicts looking for an on line family connection or just someone to hook up with as was the case of Orangutan (Emily Song Tyler) originally from Japan and Chutes and Ladders (Bryan Barbarian)who lives in San Diego and works as a low level IRS agent. His real name is Clayton
They talk by each other rather than to each other and here again it’s like talking in code. Into this awkward group John (Christian Haines) or Fountainhead enters with his story about his being a weekend junkie. Interestingly Odessa connects with John, something she could never do with her son.
|Emily Song Tyler, Catalina Maynard and Bryan Barbarin
When Ginny dies the you know what hits the fan and the biological family including Odessa, who up until now has been a constant mediator and cheerleader in the chat room, has new heartbreaking and brutal tell-alls that play out with new revelations about her relationships with her family, her struggles to make it alone and her trust in John or Fountainhead. She learned of her sister’s death from the newspaper.
Under the deft direction of Meg DeBoard and an outstanding all around cast, Hude’s “Water by the Spoonful” is just that. We the audience get tiny sips of information to put to use as the characters work on getting better, which some do, but it’s timely and happens slowly by the spoonful.
Catalina Maynard, whose presence has been missed from SD stages for some time anchors the show with her outstanding ability to draw everyone in to her web of both joy and destruction. Her performance as the disavowed mother is heart breaking. Steven Lone is top notch as a ticking time bomb dealing with his demons and his responsibilities. Melissa Ortiz, new to our stages, is a find. As Yaz she brightens up the room every time she enters it.
Emily Song Tyler is spunky as Orangutan, and fun to be with. Bryan Barbarin has some pretty funny lines to take some sober (pardon the pun) ness out of the room, John Haines as Fountainhead is just right as the weekend druggie and ultimate savior to Odessa.
Technical credits go to Yi-Chien Lee for scenic design, Minjoo Kim for lighting, Blake McCarty for projections, Maeann Ross for the Jazz sound (John Coltrane), and costumes by Danita Lee.
So what's your definition of family?
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays. Through April 24.
Where: 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town
Tickets: $25 and up
Phone: (619) 337-1525
Photo: Karli Cadel
COVID protocol: Proof of full vaccine within 14 days of showtime or negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 72 hours of show, with photo ID required. Masks required only for unvaccinated guests.