Seeing a theatrical production for the first time is always a risk. Will it be one to remember or easily forgotten?
The area’s first-time production of “Water By the Spoonful,” currently on stage in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warren Theatre, is most definitely the former.
The drama of tangled family relationships surrounded by the struggles of recovering addicts earned the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes. It is the second play in her trilogy focusing on the Ortiz family.
In the spare, electronically-augmented setting in the black box theater, emotions ebb and flow as connections familial and conversational sever sharply and tentatively reconnect.
At the dramatic center are Yazmin Ortiz (Jennifer Fox), a music teacher; her cousin Elliot Ortiz (Matthew Whitney), a Marine veteran of Iraq, and his biological mother Odessa Ortiz (Megan Chandler), also known in her internet chat room for recovering addicts as Haikumom.
Elliot is haunted by the ghost of a civilian he may have killed by mistake (Andrew Woverton) and plagued by a still-painful wound which has left his dependent on pills.
Members of the anonymous chat room are known as Chutes and Ladders (Tucker Curtis), a discontented IRS employee; Orangutan (Sophia Korson), a young girl searching for her Japanese birth parents; and Fountainhead (Wes Mills), the newest entry, a successful business man who cannot admit his addiction.
The death of Odessa’s sister, Ginny, who raised Elliot at the insistence of his drug-addicted mother, brings he and Yaz together to plan for the funeral or, at least, for the flowers. The discussion erupts in anger as Yaz seeks to include Odessa in the plans, a suggestion to which Elliot violently objects.
The vitriolic outpouring of her son’s hatred causes Odessa to relapse which, directly and indirectly, affects the fates of all and underscores her description of the never-ending process of recovery: “Staying clean is like tap dancing in a mine field.”
All the characters are dancing as fast as they can and the result, under the direction of Marion D. Deleon, is mesmerizing. Each brings the individual struggle to painful reality and, rising or falling, each has a grip on the emotions of the empathetic audience.
The music and sound created for this production by Emily Beck and Deleon are instrumental (no pun intended) in setting and sustaining the varying moods. The same is true of the excellent light/projection design by Matt Davidson.
I have one major objection to this well-acted production: With the exception of Mills and Wolverton, none of the actors are ethnically correct. The script calls for three Hispanic actors, one African American and one Asian. The program contains extended explanations from the SBCT Artistic Director and the director as to why these roles were played by actors who “may not visually match the ways that some may expect these ethnicities to appear.”
This is not to take away from the performances of the very talented cast but it did make me wonder what the play would be like if the proper “types” had been available.
“WATER BY THE SPOONFUL” plays tonight through Sunday in the Warner Studio Theatre. For reservations, call 234-1112.