Court Theatre. By Quiara Alegría Hudes. Directed by Henry Godinez. With Edgar Miguel Sanchez, Yadira Correa, Charin Alvarez, Daniel Cantor, Dexter Zollicofer, Marissa Lichwick, Anish Jethmalani. 2hrs 25mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Chicago audiences have already had the opportunity to see the final chapter in Quiara Alegría Hudes’s “Elliot trilogy”; The Happiest Song Plays Last premiered last spring at the Goodman, concluding the collection that began with Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue. But even for those of us who know how Elliot Ortiz and his cousin Yaz end up, that’s no reason not to see how they got there in Henry Godinez’s warmly staged Chicago premiere of the cycle’s Pulitzer-winning middle entry, Water by the Spoonful.
Like Happiest Song, Spoonful tracks two parallel stories that don’t appear at first to be connected. Elliot (Edgar Miguel Sanchez) and Yaz (Yadira Correa) must cope with a death in the family, while Elliot also tries to exorcise a ghost that’s haunted him since his service in Iraq and Yaz deals with the end of her marriage. In alternating scenes, four members of an online support group for recovering addicts bare their souls to each other onscreen, but whether those connections can translate to real life comes into question.
What does clearly connect all of these characters are the emotional scars and bruises they carry—that and Hudes’s lyrical, lovely way with language, which she extends here into an amusing version of cyberspeak. The recovery message-boarders exist in separate worlds, addressing each other by their usernames and speaking out to the audience, as though into a screen. In Godinez’s staging, they only turn to one another, even physically engaging on occasion, when the people behind the keyboards are most desperate to get through to one another.
In the offline world, Yaz and Elliot have their own burdens, both physical (as in the leg injury that got Elliot honorably discharged from the Marines) and historical—residual traumas of growing up that can’t be easily shaken off. Sanchez and Correa bring honesty and intensity to performances that could convince you these cousins have been each other’s rocks through years of tough times; Charin Alvarez is moving as the online site admin, Haikumom, whose maternal role is perhaps motivated by a tragedy in her past.
John Boesche’s scenic design is dominated by a gaping hole downstage—the abyss of addiction, or of our past and present hurts. Water by the Spoonful reminds that recovery from any trauma requires constant effort to resist its pull.