By Alejandra Enciso Guzmán
Over the course of eight years, playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes wrote three plays inspired by the experiences of her cousin, Elliot Ruiz. Each play stands alone, but taken together, the plays follow the history of a family. Each uses a different kind of music–Bach, Coltrane, and Puerto Rican folk music–to trace the coming of age of a bright but haunted young Puerto Rican man.
The first play Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue takes place in 2003-2004, when Elliot is 18 and 19 years old. The piece became a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
The second one, Water by the Spoonful which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama is set in 2009, six years after Elliot first left for Iraq. In this play the former marine is back in the United States working at Subway and trying to kick-start his acting career. In the final play The Happiest Song Plays Last, Elliot has returned to the Middle East – this time as a consultant on a film about the Iraq War.
The Old Globe ‘went to the middle’ and presented the California premiere of Water by the Spoonful. They are also hosting an art exhibit by returning veterans. “All of us at the Globe are looking forward to sharing this remarkable play with San Diego audiences,” said Artistic Director Barry Edelstein. “The gifted director Edward Torres has gathered a very strong and talented cast, and together with a top-notch design team, they are sure to bring to vivid life the extraordinary and moving humanity of one of the best American plays of the past decade.”
Everything is indeed set in place with this play: the cast, the direction, the theatre and the set design. I first came across Quiara’s work with the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights. As well as being one of my top favorites, In the Heights was the first musical I did bi-national consulting for when the Broadway Touring company came to San Diego. It is funny how things work; the public relations manager I worked with at the time of In the Heights (who became my mentor), introduced me to this wonderful work Water by the Spoonful as well.
Elliot Ortiz, played by Rey Lucas (making his Old Globe debut), is back in the States after serving in Iraq, reconnecting with family and starting a new life. At the same time, four strangers in an internet chat room seek support to face demons of their own, and soon the real world and the virtual one start to intersect in unexpected ways.
Staged at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, the small venue with roman style seating immerses you in what is happening. The internet chat is with former crack addicts. They have to watch their language. No cursing or aggressiveness– otherwise, they will be censored by the host ‘Haikumom’ played by Marilyn Torres. Even though it is 2009 in the play, it kind of takes you back to the 90’s being inside a Packman game which is absolutely great.
The cast also features Robert Eli (Fountainhead aka John), Sarah Nina Hayon (Yazmin Ortiz), San Diego local M. Keala Milles, Jr. (Ghost, Professor Aman, Policeman; Ruibo Qian (Orangutan) and Keith Randolph Smith (Chutes&Ladders).
The actors come and go all around the space, sharing it with the audience. The voice of Keith Randolph Smith enwraps the story. The tone and rhythm contribute to the perfect pace. Water by the Spoonful is a great contemporary story that is REAL. People can relate to the story, no matter their background. It is definitely a must see.
The creative team includes Old Globe Associate Artist Ralph Funicello (Scenic Design), David Israel Reynoso (Costume Design), Jesse Klug (Lighting Design), Mikhail Fiksel (Sound Design), Caparelliotis Casting (Casting), and Jess Slocum (Stage Manager).
TICKETS to Water by the Spoonful can be purchased online at www.TheOldGlobe.org by phone at (619) 23-GLOBE, or by visiting the Box Office at 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. Performances will be until May 11.
Ticket prices start at $29. Discounts are available for full-time students, patrons 29 years of age and under, seniors, and groups of 10 or more.
In conjunction with local organizations Combat Arts and So Say We All, The Old Globe is happy to host an exhibit of art by returning veterans in Hattox Hall, above the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, part of the Globe’s Conrad Prebys Theatre Center. It is curated by local artist and Combat Arts founder Elizabeth Washburn. Exhibit hours will be one hour prior to performance.
POST-SHOW FORUM: Wednesday, May 7. FREE
Discuss the play with members of the Water by the Spoonful cast and crew at post-show discussions led by the Globe’s creative staff after the performances.
SUBJECT MATTERS: Saturday, May 10. FREE
Following the performance, explore the ideas and issues raised by the production through brief, illuminating post-show discussions with local experts, such as scientists, artists, historians and scholars. Guest speakers Elizabeth Washburn of Combat Arts and Justin Hudnall of So Say We All will speak about their work with returning veterans and will offer audience members a guided tour of the exhibit of artwork by local veteran artists and writers.
NOTE: Cabrillo Bridge, which provides access to Laurel Street and the west side of the Park is closed. Pedestrians can walk across. Arriving early is advised to find parking.
Alejandra Enciso Guzmán is an arts consultant and reporter in both Tijuana and San Diego. @Riselah / @Riselaheng