BWW Review: WATER BY THE SPOONFUL at Teatro Paraguas
Even though the subject matter is heavy, Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue, part one of the Elliot Trilogy by Quiara Alegria Hughes, left me with a light feeling at the end. I was looking forward to part two, Water By the Spoonful, this week, hopeful for a similar experience. Part two was a whole other experience and this time, the heaviness did not subside at the conclusion.
Once again, Hughes dives deep into Puerto Rican Elliot Ortiz (Juan Mendoza Solis) and his family - Elliot is a young soldier back from the Gulf, who is dealing with the ghosts of war and his past. The first thing we notice about Elliot in part two is that things have changed, and gotten worse, for this veteran and his family.
Elliot is dealing with the failing health of the woman he calls Mami Ginny, and trying to find someone at his cousin Yaz's (Cristina Vigil) college to translate an Arabic phrase ingrained in his brain. He's trying to get all of this done in time for his shift at Subway. He learns that the phrase loosely translates to "Give me back my passport," but this does not seem to bring him any comfort. He is haunted throughout the play by a Ghost (J.Santiago Candelaria) who only utters this phrase.
Next we meet three new characters - Odessa (Alicia Lueras Maldonado), Orangutan (Frida Mercury) and Chutes and Ladders (Dmetrius Conley-Williams), three people in a chat room for addicts. It's obvious they have been talking to each other for some time, but we're not sure how they quite fit in to the story, yet. Orangutan is an expat living in Japan and has been clean for some time; Chutes and Ladders is a government worker taking it day by day and Odessa appears to be the glue holding them together.
Meanwhile, Elliot's cousin Yaz leads a lecture on the dissonance of Jazz, complete with musical accompaniment. Both are notified via text that Mami Ginny has taken a turn for the worse, and they need to get to her bedside to say their goodbyes. In part one, we assume that Mami Ginny is Elliot's biological mother - but part two reveals that she is actually his aunt - his mother, who we met just a scene before, is Odessa, the moderator of the addiction chat room. Yaz and Elliot discuss whether they should contact her to let her know of her sister's death.
Back in the chat room, a new member, Fountainhead (Evan Dalzell), logs on and tells the group about his amazing life of wealth and privilege, the only caveat being that he likes to smoke crack (he arrogantly refuses to believe he is an addict). When he asks for "tips to not smoke crack," the group unloads on him and mock his attitude.
As in Elliot Part One, many of the characters have the challenge of indirect dialogue - the trio on their computers talking at, but not necessarily to, one another; Elliot talking to a ghost of his past who doesn't seem to hear him. The ensemble deals well with this challenge and pulls us deeper into the story.
Elliot and Yaz begin the process of arranging Ginny's funeral and also grapple with who will take on the role of matriarch for their family. Mami Ginny was the glue that held everything together, and they both are adrift at her passing. They decide to contact Odessa together; this is where the story gets darker and family secrets begin to unravel.
The ensuing scenes paint the stories of all of the characters - growing up in a Puerto Rican family, dealing with addiction and grief and figuring out where each person belongs are the overriding themes of the piece. The dissonance Yaz talks about in her lectures is playing out through each scene of the play. We begin to feel for these people, each broken and longing to heal, some more determined to do so than others. We begin to root for Elliot and Yaz, hoping that they will find their way; we root for Chutes and Ladders and Orangutan to stay sober and maybe find love; we root for Odessa to face her demons head-on and find peace with her family, we root for Fountainhead to finally come to grips with his addiction.
This piece is extremely complex - the interspersion of chat room scenes with family scenes could make for a disjointed mess, but this ensemble handles the transitions beautifully and ties the whole piece together. We as an audience are hopeful that each new scene will reveal another piece of the complex puzzle, and this company delivers.
A lot is said for breakout performances in theater, but not enough credence is paid to a true ensemble, where each character is equally important and played with equal commitment and passion. This ensemble manages to do just that, and the end result is nothing short of perfection. Even though part two put me on an emotional rollercoaster that I'm still trying to process, I look forward to part three, The Happiest Song Plays Last, later this week. Kudos to Teatro Paraguas, Ironweed Productions and Santa Fe Playhouse on their collaborative effort in bringing this important and powerful trilogy to Santa Fe.
All three Elliot plays can be seen the weekend of October 11 - go to www.santafeplayhouse.org/trilogy/ for tickets and more information.