SANTA FE, N.M. — A play that won the Pulitzer Prize only two years ago is being performed in Santa Fe simply because Fran Martone was intrigued by the title when she saw it advertised while she was in Washington, D.C.
“I ordered the play and fell in love with it on the first read” – something that hardly ever happens, said Martone. “The rest is history.”
“Water by the Spoonful” will be performed by Teatro Paraguas today through March 16 in its small, black-box theater on Santa Fe’s mid-west side. Two storylines run on different tracks in the beginning – one of a veteran of the Iraq War working in a Subway restaurant and dealing with the death of the aunt who raised him, while the other follows the stories of crack addicts interacting through an online forum.
By the end, though, those separate threads pull together into one web of associations. The veteran confronts his mother, who runs the chat room where the addicts interact.
And we learn that “Water by the Spoonful” refers to instructions given to that mother when her kids were small and had the stomach flu. She followed the instructions – until she left to find her next fix, with the consequences irreparably ripping the bonds holding that family together.
“The play invites us all to look at the chaos and pain around the Iraq War, addiction and family, but in a way that is lyrical, empathic … the idea is for humanity to connect with each other. That seems very important to me in this day and age,” said Martone, who is directing the production here.
She proposed the play to Argos MacCallum, artistic director of Teatro Paraguas, who said he was happy to be presented with such a contemporary piece. “Our focus now is to do a number of these very contemporary plays,” he said.
The theater focuses on Latino theater, and “my personal feeling is that it’s so important to get women’s voices in theater,” he added.
“Water by the Spoonful” is written by Quiara Alegria Hudes and some of the characters, the veteran and his family, are Puerto Rican. Martone said she has Latino actors playing an Anglo, a Japanese-American, an African-American, and, yes, a Latino, and a Native American actor playing a Puerto Rican.
“I think it works,” she said of the local ethnic melange.
Roxanne Tapia plays a Japanese girl, made American by adoption, who moves to Japan to teach English. Growing up in a very white town, she felt isolated, a condition that wasn’t changed by going to Japan as an American, Tapia said of her character.
“The desire for connection is universal,” she said. “Nobody has gone through life without feeling isolated and alone. It’s a universal theme.”
Tapia said she saw the play performed in Boston. “I loved it. I came away saying, ‘That’s a very intense play.’ It’s a lovely piece of work.”
Rick Vargas, along with Tapia, plays a character who interacts via the addiction chat room – the actors communicate with each other from separate spaces onstage, speaking aloud the words they are typing on their computers.
“It’s a challenge for me because I’m not interacting eye-to-eye with other actors,” he said. His character, according to one line, “not only colored outside the lines, but ate the crayon.”
“I look at it as a play about community,” he said, noting that such connection can occur online among people separated by thousands of miles. “Everybody in this play is not afraid to ask for help.”
In addition to two other characters, MacCallum himself plays an Iraqi ghost who keeps asking for his passport back.
“I’m living in Elliot’s head,” he said, referring to the war veteran. Military protocol, MacCallum said, is to take a passport from people shot in Iraq as a record of the Army’s kills. The implication is that Elliot shot and killed the ghost who continues to haunt him.
In most plays, Tapia said, characters grow as they discover their strengths. In this one, they grow because they know their weaknesses.
“Water by the Spoonful” is the second play in an intended trilogy by Hudes. It was preceded by “Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue,” whose focus was on that character’s war experiences. The first play is influenced by Bach’s music, while this one is styled on the jazz of John Coltrane.
The music’s influence on “Water by the Spoonful” relates to dissonance, Martone said, “about tolerating things that are not beautiful but are worthy of our tolerance or acceptance.”
“Or appreciation,” Tapia added.