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A CurtainUp Review
Water by the Spoonful
This is the middle play in a trilogy that began with A Soldier’s Fugue (2007) and ended with The Happiest Song Plays Last (2014). Forgive the cliché, but you could hear a pin drop as the rapt audience became immersed in this highly visceral play about the variously conflicted members of a Latino-American family trying to find a path of personal liberation amidst familial dysfunction, addiction and divorce
Each character is given equal dramatic weight. However, it is how Elliot, an Iraq War veteran tries to get his bearings while being plunged into the turbulence he finds at home that is the play’s core. Although looking for redemption for something that is not revealed until the end and haunted by his own ghosts, Elliot has joined forces with his recently divorced cousin Yazmin to repair the damage done by his estranged mother and former drug addict Odessa. A major part of the play and often its most engaging is Odessa’s mission as a kind of online chat-room den mother who wants to bring hope and reassurance to her small group of earnestly dependent and devoted addicts.
Sean Carvajal gives a bracing performance as the haunted Elliot whose talent as an actor is getting some notice from Hollywood (that’s in the next play). Starting out a little hesitantly Emma Ramos’s performance as the cousin/music professor Yazmin builds substantially to a poignant portrait of a woman in search of own value system. Great work from Zuleyma Guevara as Odessa as well as from her family of onliners that include a flippant Japanese-American (Kana Hatakeama), an African-American office clerk (Jamil A.C. Mangan) and a seriously screwed up wealthy White family guy (Zack Calhoon.)
This is a difficult and complex play to stage. But director Kel Haney gets it all right as do the excellent actors. Haney brings the play to vivid life by starting on a completely empty stage with the audience seated in tiers on two sides. Panels on the back wall open and close to allow whatever props and furnishings are needed to roll out with speed and efficiency. Scenic Designer Lianne Arnold and Lighting Designer Brant Thomas Murray deserve bravos as well for the web-based visuals projected above the stage.
Audiences need not be concerned if they are not familiar with the first play as Water by the Spoonful stands firmly alone and complete in its own world. Hudes, who scripted the Tony Award winning musical In the Heights has written a play that vibrates with a muscular musicality. It is not dissimilar to the dissonance heard in progressive jazz and that evolved excitingly from classical traditions. It's a play to be savored and one certainly not to be missed.
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Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes
Directed by Kel Haney
Cast: Sean Carvajal (Elliot), Emma Ramos (Yazmin), Ethan Hova (Professor Aman/Ghost/Policeman), Zuleyma Guevara (Odessa), Kana Hatakeyama (Orangatan), Jamil A.C. Mangan (Chutes&Ladders), Zack Calhoon (Fountainhead)
Stage Manager: Dale Smallwood
Costume Design: Dori Morgan
Scenic Design: Lianne Arnold
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Zella Fry Theatre on the Kean University Main Campus, Union, N.J.
(908) 737 - 7469
Tickets: ($30.00; $20.00 for seniors; $15.00 for students
Performances: Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm.
From 07/14/16 Opened 07/15/16 Ends 07/31/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 07/14/16
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