Helen Schultz ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The internet has become a place for people – and yes, certainly lonely people – to connect. When we first meet the denizens of Lyric Stage Company’s Water by the Spoonful, we see a cast of disparate characters: a wounded Marine, a music professor, a business man with a cocaine habit, a young ESL teacher in Japan, a paper-pusher for the IRS. All of them are looking for some sort of lifeline – a friendship with someone else that doesn’t leave them high and dry.
Unfortunately, Water by the Spoonful falls more into the category of missed connections. An empathetic tale of human connection in the digital age is overshadowed by a bevy of subplots and characters. It’s a shame too – there are moments in which the piece feels like it is onto saying something new about how we hide behind technology to reveal ourselves.
The action of the play flutters between that of the happenings in an online support group and the death of the matriarch of the Ortiz family, the subject of Quiara Alegría Hudes’ ongoing trilogy of plays. It’s a multi-layered piece – we see different characters interact within their own groups and then together, sewing together the piece’s connections by the curtain of the first act. But the layers of this piece begin to smother each other as they pile on. For the complicatedness of the plot, we sacrifice depth and background for its characters.
The most compelling piece of the play – the chat room – is left unsatisfyingly generic in its approach to its characters. Just as we begin to see the most complex parts of their personalities emerge, they’re gone. As for the Oritz family, it’s hard to view this play and not wish that it were bookended by its predecessor and descendent. There simply just isn’t enough material in Water by the Spoonful to make us feel connected to the Oritzes – that’s a task best left to the first play in this series.
But for what these characters lack, the standouts in this cast make up for. It’s hard to not cheer for the chat room scenes to appear – it’s the glimpses of Johnny Lee Davenport as the comfortably numb Chutes&Ladders that lend this play its emotional heart. And when he interacts with the firery Theresa Nyugen as the tough but scared Orangutan, it’s hard not to feel like something truly special is happening onstage.
Their final scene together is an understated moment that could move even the most cynical theatergoer to tears. Gabriel Kuttner as Fountainhead, the well-to-do exec with a cocaine habit does a wonderful job with a rather prickly character. And Gabriel Rodriguez, as the troubled Elliot, is a revelation – he’s hilarious at moments, heart-breaking at others. These performances help to transcend a production that is still trying to find its feet.
Water by the Spoonful’s characters find that life has its moments of pure joy – that these are worth seeking out despite the other disappointments that may arise. Although Water by the Spoonful is plagued with many issues, its performances manage to shine through an otherwise convoluted production. While the piece itself lacks the simplicity it needs, the actors manage to find moments in which to find some quiet. The true essence of this story: moments of human empathy, enshrouded in a world that often feels all too dissonant.
Water by the Spoonful runs until November 16.