Issues of addiction, responsibility, and community are fused into a fascinating tapestry in the overheated but lyrical Pulitzer winner Water By The Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes (the Philadelphia-born book writer of In The Heights).
In Spoonful–the second play in a trilogy–a marine has returned from Iraq to Philly with a secret, some haunting visions, and more mortality to face.
Alternately, we see three–then four–people communicating on a support site for recovering addicts, each with a family trauma, an addiction crisis, and a reliance on each other for communal sanity. Schematically enough, the striving quartet consists of a black man, a white man, a Hispanic woman, and an Asian woman. (No gays, surprisingly enough.)
One of those four turns out to be related to the marine, which manages to intertwine the stories as they form a mounting montage of recriminations and regrets.
Hudes’ ambition seems to be to create verbal and emotional jazz, an art form which–as one character reminds us–liberates notes but can lead to dissonance if all that freedom isn’t properly controlled.
The characters are clearly searching for a way out of their joint noise and into more calming sounds.
In their pained struggle toward harmony, they mock recovery slogans (“If you are eating a shit sandwich, chances are you ordered it”), but the play straight-facedly supplies some of its own. (“Nobody can make you invisible but you.”)
Homilies are in short supply, though. While some of the scenes are long and talky and it’s hard to make internet chat seem riveting onstage, this is a sprawling, ambitious work with a lot of care and poetry, well served by a fine cast.
Water By The Spoonful is a big gulp–a play overflowing with ideas that can seem too much, but Hudes’ presence never makes itself invisible and the result is quite beautiful.