Second Stage Theatre, New York
“Surprise would be an understatement” to describe the reaction when Water by the Spoonful was awarded last year’s Pulitzer Prize for drama, said Linda Winer in Newsday. Not only did Quiara Alegría Hudes’s play beat out several favorites for the award, it was selected based on the script alone. Only now has the play—the second installment in a trilogy about an Iraq War veteran—reached a New York stage. But it won’t please everyone: Hudes’s sprawling drama is “intentionally messy about relationships and scattershot themes, then a bit too neat at the end.” Still, Hudes clearly “cares deeply about her characters,” and that concern proves contagious.
It helps that those characters aren’t “the standard dysfunctional-family types trotted out in so much new American drama,” said David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter. Ex-Marine Elliot Ortiz does have family problems—the aunt who raised him dies of cancer early on, and he and his cousin Yaz will spend much time arranging the necessary funeral. But Elliot (Armando Riesco) is also trying to kick an addiction to painkillers by joining an online recovery forum populated by an IRS drone (Frankie Faison), a crackhead computer entrepreneur (Bill Heck), and a Japanese-American adoptee (Sue Jean Kim). The parts of the play in which people are conversing in cyberspace are a bit “emotionally distancing,” but the ensemble compensates by being “fully tapped into the idiosyncrasies and melancholy humor” of Hudes’s vision.
Riesco is especially good, said Charles Isherwood in The New York Times. His Elliot has “the life-toughened exterior of a young man who is keeping his anxieties under tight but tenuous control.” As Yaz, his upwardly mobile cousin, Zabryna Guevara “exudes a brisk competence that occasionally falters to reveal the insecurity of someone who has had to fight to grasp every opportunity life has tossed her way.” Now an adjunct professor of music at Swarthmore, she at one point delivers a snippet of a classroom lecture on John Coltrane and how the legendary saxophonist used dissonance as “a gateway to resolution.” Hudes, in this “moving collage of lives in crisis,” is wise enough not to suggest that resolution for these characters is so easily guaranteed.