'Water by the Spoonful'

"Can I please have my passport back?" asks a figure that haunts Elliot, a soldier who served in Iraq who is finding daily civilian and family life hard to take in his old Philadelphia home turf. But all the characters in Quiara Alegria Hudes' compassionate follow-up to "Elliot: A Soldier's Fugue" (a Pulitzer finalist) are seeking a kind of visa -- one that will allow them to make it to a safe haven in a messed-up world. The world preem is receiving a first-class production, beautifully acted and gracefully helmed by "Elliot" director Davis McCallum at Hartford Stage.

“Can I please have my passport back?” asks a figure that haunts Elliot, a soldier who served in Iraq who is finding daily civilian and family life hard to take in his old Philadelphia home turf. But all the characters in Quiara Alegria Hudes’ compassionate follow-up to “Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue” (a Pulitzer finalist) are seeking a kind of visa — one that will allow them to make it to a safe haven in a messed-up world. The world preem is receiving a first-class production, beautifully acted and gracefully helmed by “Elliot” director Davis McCallum at Hartford Stage.

The funny, wise and touching play — and the middle, stand-alone piece of her “Elliot” trilogy — is sure to be welcomed at other theaters, too. (The third work, “The Happiest Song Plays Last,” attached to the Goodman Theater in Chicago, was developed last summer at the National Playwrights Conference.)

“Spoonful” takes place in the protag’s old ‘hood, where Elliot (Armando Riesco, stepping into that character’s shoes again) works in a sandwich shop, dulled by his mundane routine but toying with the idea of becoming an actor. (An invitation to Hollywood lays the groundwork for the third play.)

But family matters — a death, money problems, issues with his birth mom — scuttle any grand plans and feed into his own issues of guilt, anger and dependency.

Running parallel to Elliot’s story are four far-flung characters at various stages of recovery, communicating in a Narcotics Anonymous chat room. A smartass Japanese-American (Teresa Avia Lim), an African-American office worker (Ray Anthony Thomas) and a Main Line man who can’t get past Day One (Matthew Boston) joke, bicker and seek solace in cyberspace where no one — yet everyone — can hear you scream. The chat room is presided over by a wise, haiku-reciting site manager (Liza Colon-Zayas) who is connected to Elliot’s story.

Everyone in the play is living day to day — or spoonful by spoonful, to echo Hudes’ poignant metaphor — enabled, hindered, and supported by an ever-interrelated reach of family and friends. The play is a combination poem, prayer and app on how to cope in an age of uncertainty, speed and chaos.

Hudes (“In the Heights”) brilliantly taps into both the family ties that bind as well as the alternative cyber universe, exploring the latter’s use of language, attitude and freedoms of expression. Confessional monologues here make more sense here than they do in O’Neill plays.

Hudes’ dialogue is bright, her characters compelling and her themes spelled out, once again, musically, with Elliot’s professor cousin Yazmin (Zabryna Guevara) talking about the beauty of dissonance in the jazz of Coltrane. But it’s only when cyber meets the real world that anger gives way to forgiveness and resistance becomes redemption; the heart of the play opens up and the waters flow freely.

Water by the Spoonful

Hartford Stage, Connecticut; 493 seats; $80.50 top

Production

A Hartford Stage presentation of a play in two act by Quiara Alegria Hudes. Directed by Davis McCallum.

Creative

Sets, Neil Patel; costumes, Chloe Chapin; lighting, Russell H. Champa; sound, Bray Poor; composer, J. Michael Friedman; production stage manager, Megan Schwarz Dickert; production manager, Bryan T. Holcombe. Opened, reviewed, Oct. 26, 2011. Runs through Nov. 13. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast

Elliot - Armando Riesco
Odessa - Liza Colon-Zayas
Yazmin - Zabryna Guevara
Chutes & Ladders - Ray Anthony
Thomas Fountainhead - Matthew Boston
Professor Aman/ Ghost - Demosthenes Chrysan
Orangutan - Teresa Avia Lim

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