Nuanced Heartbreak: “Water By The Spoonful”

Photo credit: Mark S. Howard

Presented by The Lyric Stage Company of Boston
By Quiara Alegria Hudes
Directed by Scott Edmiston

Oct. 18th – Nov. 16th, 2013
140 Clarendon Street
Boston, MA 02116
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Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Boston) Behind the People Magazine covers of smiling celebrities announcing sobriety, there is a more jagged and complex tale behind every junkie’s recovery.  Physiologically, the junkie’s brain has been re-wired to seek out new, chemical heights of pleasure, and going clean means settling for a life of just okay.  Psychologically, the task is much harder, as the junkie in recovery must confront the human wreckage of his or her addiction and attempt to make amends, which can be a Sisyphean task.

This is the rocky terrain that is covered so deftly by the Lyric Stage production of Water by the Spoonful.  It rivals the film Rachel Getting Married in how it can portray the lifelong road to recovery in all its ups and downs, while still displaying a compelling and accessible story about the heartbreak of being human.

The play is a revolving door of interwoven tales of falling down and getting up again.  Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes purposely doesn’t let us see how the disparate pieces of the puzzle (a haunted Marine with a mangled leg, a mom in recovery leading a chatroom for crack addicts, a young Japanese girl trying to find family) of the story fit together.  But she never lets us get distracted with the big picture because each piece is at once so complete and so incomplete, making these characters that we want to minimize hauntingly familiar.

In a lesser production, this script could have devolved into melodrama, but director Scott Edmiston hones this strong cast and refuses to let any character off the emotional hook.  Some of the lines border on sitcom, but each piece of dialogue is said with compelling conviction, and even the lies are convincing and, after the fact, transparent.  A standout in this cast include Gabriel Rodriguez (Elliot Ortiz) as the aforementioned Marine; Rodriguez’s wired deadpan delivery is his greatest strength, enabling Ortiz to belt out staccato one-liners that almost cover his pain for the past.  His emotional counterpart is Mariela Lopez-Ponce (HaikuMom), who creates a character on the surface who at first seems to have it together as the leader of a community of recovering addicts, but whose self-hate is so profound that it is shocks you when revealed.  The emotional anchor of the play is Johnny Lee Davenport (Chutes and Ladders), who creates a character who tries so desperately to fade into the fabric of life but must learn to take chances once again.

This production isn’t perfect.  The stage design by Richard Chambers is provocative, but sometimes distracting, with wires hanging down from television monitors to reflect, I suppose, our lack of connectivity.  It instead distracts from some of the stark emotional scenes unfolding expertly on the stage. Also, when the script brings together the disparate pieces of the puzzle, they fit together a bit too easily.  But perhaps it’s a good thing that Hudes can’t bring the pieces together in a satisfactory manner, because three-dimensional characters inevitably take on a life of their own and sometimes refuse to allow for the story to end in a neat manner.

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