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A CurtainUp Review
Water by the Spoonful
m This review is only a scan. For ore background and in-depth description of the story and characters see Curtainup's review of the New York production
Although the story takes place simultaneously in Philadelphia and in the overlapping world of cyberspace, Philadelphia is represented in the text by a few place names thrown in. The work could lay claim to any number of cites simply by substituting mentions of a couple of their local streets and institutions. There's no Philly vibe.
Structurally, though, it is a beautifully woven work of art. Hefty threads of dissonance, fathers, mothers, resentment, kindness, and addiction run through it. But this play is not one of those educational, proselytizing lectures. There are no wasted encounters, and all the scenes are key scenes, although many could use judicious cropping. The characters fit into a complex pattern as they take on dimension and emotional weight. When hidden relationships are exposed, parts of the story that seemed widely disparate connect in strong and dramatic ways.
The Latino, black, Asian, and white people represented are not simply stereotypes spouting POVs. Burdened by intense self-absorption, bitterness, and personal tragedies, these characters have a chance at redemption.
The playwright uses the device of the internet to carry overly-long monologues, but the play still gains traction as it moves along. Several funny bits, however, don't attract all the chortles they deserve in this Very Serious Staging.
On the Arden's Arcadia stage the expansive concrete slab-inspired set with flat, cold light, serves to distance and chill where crucial scenes of remembrance or reconciliation need warmth, a sense of place, and connection. However, the set design's cold atmosphere does favor the multiple virtual locations of the cyber world, where its starkness lends a kind of clarity.
A leaner, tighter iteration of this admirable play is something devoutly to be wished for. But it's a valuable theater experience to watch how the separate, intricate pieces of Quiara Alegria Hudes's Water by the Spoonful eventually come together to offer revelations and hope for change.