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Water By The Spoonful: How Families Are Made and Stay Together, Or Not

A time to talk about connections, made and missed.
A time to talk about connections, made and missed.
Photo by Stages

Elliott Ortiz is a 24-year-old Puerto Rican and Iraqi war vet struggling with his life. He hallucinates about the violent and heartbreaking experiences from his past which weren't limited to his military duty.

In Water by the Spoonful (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2012), playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes poses the question of how a young man and former addict — and the son of a former heroin addict — is supposed to get on with his life. The biological son of one woman, and raised by that woman's sister, Elliott has returned to his hometown of Philadelphia where he works in a sandwich shop.

It's 2009 and his biological mother Odessa runs a chat line under another name designed to allow recovering addicts to talk with each other. One of those former addicts wants to go beyond the chatroom to meet in person.

Water by the Spoonful is the second part of a trilogy about to start on three separate stages in Houston. The first part, Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue, opens at Main Street Theater on February 8. The third part, The Happiest Song Plays Last, will be given in several reading performances by Mildred's Umbrella on March 6-8.

Jerry Ruiz, a theater professor at Texas State University where he is head of the MFA graduate directing program, who previously directed The River Bride at Stages, is directing the Stages effort.  He directed a university production of Water by the Spoonful two years ago and jumped at the chance to do that again and to see it in the new Stages theater center, The Gordy, he says.

Ruiz, who has directed other plays by Hudes says "She's certainly one of the leading Latina playwrights in American theater and really one of the leading playwrights period."

"Ultimately it’s a play about our very essential need for human connection," Ruiz says. "One of the main characters in the play runs an internet chat group for recovering addicts and that group really counts on each other even though they've never met in real life; they've only met on the chat room.

"They really hold each other accountable and if not for the chat group it would be much harder for them to remain sober. One of the characters is particularly close to one of the other chat room members and she wants to meet him in real life because she’s struggling to stay sober and he's sort of the best friend she's ever had.

"The other story line in the play involves Elliot who is dealing with PTSD, he's an Iraq War veteran and he's become estranged from his mother who is the woman who runs the internet chat group. She had to give him up many years prior because of her addiction and he was raised by his aunt so he and his mother have a very strained relationship."

Asked what makes this particular play so special, Ruiz says: "It has some very universal themes but it addresses them in a creative and inventive way. So many plays are about family but the twist here is that it's about an internet chat group which is a sort of chosen family and it's also about this mother-son relationship. There's a very particular sense of isolation that we can have in our modern experience because of technology, because of the internet and smart phones. All those things that do keep us connected but also make it harder for us to connect face to face."

Besides that, there's the dealing with the effects of the Iraq War and the effect it had on a young man's life, Ruiz says. "And also the family trauma. A lot of his issues are stemming from his mother's issues and her trauma radiates back through the family history."

Although these three plays are presented as a trilogy, each one can be viewed on their own, Ruiz said. He believes the two-act  Water by the Spoonful will appeal to a general audience as well as people who however tangentially have experience with addition. It's also a play that examines some cultural issues. A play that examines the effects of technology on our lives. A play that has a good bit of humor too. It's a very diverse ensemble cast."

"All these characters intersect who are from very different walks of life, but the one thing they have in common is this need for human connection."

Performances are scheduled for February 7-23 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on the Lester and Sue Smith Stage of The Gordy, 800 Rosine. For information, call 713-527-0123 or visit stageshouston.com. $25-$65

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