Water by the Spoonful
October 3–20, 2019
Teatro Paraguas, Santa Fe
This production of Water by the Spoonful was part of a collaboration between Teatro Paraguas, Ironweed Productions, and Santa Fe Playhouse to enact Quiara Alegría Hudes’s Elliot Trilogy: Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue; Water by the Spoonful; and The Happiest Song Plays Last.
Ironweed transformed a simple rehearsal space into a fabulous, intimate theatrical experience under the direction of Valli Marie Rivera. Effective lighting played a role in this, designed by Skip Rapoport, as well as multimedia effects by Joshua Billiter. The actors first entered carrying their own light sources, interacting through choreography set to the free jazz of John Coltrane, whose music formed the “spiritual arc” of the play, in the capable hands of sound designer Dan Piburn.
Hudes’s Pulitzer Prize–winning writing weaves together the stories of seven characters in this ensemble piece. Elliot, the pivotal character in all three plays of the trilogy, played here by Juan Mendoza Solis, is a veteran, still fighting the ghost of the first Iraqi he shot. Christine Vigil plays his supportive cousin. The rest of this talented cast is made up of Alicia Lueras Maldonado, Frida Mercury, Dmetrius Conley-Williams, Evan Dalzell, and Santiago Candelaria as the ghost. The actors beautifully embody the struggles of trauma, addiction, and relationships. The idea of offering water by the spoonful serves as a metaphor for the small acts of kindness and connection that heal, a little at a time.
The writing is subtle and powerful, supported by nuanced direction, wherein overlapping scenes are managed beautifully…
Setting the drama in the round was a perfect choice, allowing the audience to feel like part of the action. This immediacy removed the need for elaborate sets. Rivera chose to have all actors remain on stage throughout the play, occupied in their corners between scenes, bringing their set pieces forward when needed. This created a seamless flow between very different worlds, including virtual connections through an internet chat group and liminal spaces between realities. The last scene, set in Puerto Rico’s rainforest, El Yunque, was mystically evocative, with ashes scattered in a waterfall, caught by streams of light.
The writing is subtle and powerful, supported by nuanced direction, wherein overlapping scenes are managed beautifully in spite of the small playing area. It felt like watching several plays simultaneously, until the characters’ connections were made clear at the end of Act I. The dramatic outcome of each character’s story was both satisfying and touching. Although everything was not fully resolved (this is only the second play of the trilogy), in this stand-alone piece one could see the journey traveled by each person and appreciate how far all had come in their own healing