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Cygnet Theatre to stage production of Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Water by the Spoonful'

Courtesy of Karli Cadel
A scene from the Cygnet Theatre production of "Water by the Spoonful," featuring Odessa (Catalina Dolores Maynard) and FountainHead (Christian Haines) is shown in this undated photo. The play runs through Apr. 24, 2022.

"'Water by the Spoonful' is about finding connection," said Meg DeBoard, director of the Cygnet Theatre production. "Some of our characters find connection virtually through a chat room. Some of them find it physically through their family. And also sometimes you just find connection through strangers."

DeBoard, who recently wrapped up The Old Globe's Directing Fellowship, said that this is a play that celebrates the idea of the found or chosen family.

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Quiara Alegría Hudes' script, which won the Pulitzer in 2012, is set partly in a cocaine addiction support chat room following the stories of several of its members, but is also rooted in the non-virtual world — a production challenge, but primed for our virtual-hybrid zeitgeist of 2022.

The Cygnet production stages this contrast of reality and virtual using projections and lighting.

"We have moments where we have the actors look at each other, but we have to understand that they're not actually looking at each other," DeBoard said. "The biggest challenge is finding ways to make the text and the actors connect with each other without them physically being able to touch and hug, and still make it all come alive."

The production opens shortly after the two-year anniversary of our online, pandemic life — a connection to this play's themes that's significant to the crew.

"I think now that we are seeing each other in person more, certainly more than two years ago, understanding that the online worlds that we created for ourselves at the beginning of the pandemic were vital to what we needed at the time," DeBoard said.


Elliot's story

In the "real" world, the story heavily centers on Elliot, a young veteran six years out from serving in Iraq. In fact, "Water by the Spoonful" is the second installment in a series of free-standing works referred to as "the Elliot Trilogy."

Courtesy of Karli Cadel
A scene in Cygnet Theatre's production of "Water by the Spoonful" with FountainHead (Christian Haines), Odessa (Catalina Dolores Maynard), Yazmin (Melissa Ortiz) and Elliot (Steven Lone) is shown in this undated photo.

Steven Lone, who plays Elliot, said that reentry into civilian life hasn't been easy for Elliot. Lone portrayed Elliot in an Ion Theatre production of the first installment in Hudes' series, "Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue," several years ago.

"I have a unique relationship with Elliot, being that I've been able to play him before and really sink into this character. So to bring him back to life years later in ‘Water by the Spoonful’ has been wonderful for me and a bit cathartic," Lone said.

In the war, Elliot suffers an injury that sends him home. By the time we meet him in "Water by the Spoonful," he's in Philadelphia, still contending with both physical and invisible wounds from his time in Iraq, and he takes a job at a sandwich shop to support his mother.

Lone said he sees his own community represented in the play, with diverse characters portrayed by a diverse cast — with settings not only in the virtual world and Philadelphia, but Japan, Puerto Rico and even a mysterious spiritual realm, too.

Part of what makes this play so resonant, Lone said, is the way Hudes writes those characters. "It's very powerful to see that on the stage," he said.

Coltrane's dissonance

Hudes, who wrote the book for the Tony Award-winning musical "In the Heights," is often informed by music in her playwriting, and each play in the Elliot trilogy is connected to a piece or series or works. For "Water by the Spoonful," it was John Coltrane's iconic album, "A Love Supreme."

The play is wrapped up in the idea of dissonance in music, particularly through the character of Yazmin, Elliot's sibling-like cousin, played by Melissa Ortiz.

"There's a lot of dissonance in 'A Love Supreme,'" DeBoard said. "Yaz is a music professor and she has this incredible monologue about the first time she heard dissonance."

Dissonance in music means an absence of harmony, or when the notes don't seem to "go" together. It's often a device to propel a composition toward a resolution, but in Coltrane's music he lets dissonance be an option for that resolution.

"If there was dissonance in a piece, then it would still resolve itself by the end of the piece and end in a lovely chord. But actually that's not really how life is. And so John Coltrane said, you know what, dissonance and that ugliness that comes with it, that can be the ending," DeBoard said. "Allowing ourselves to be messy and to be not quite harmonious is a huge theme of this play."

The opening night of "Water by the Spoonful" is Saturday, March 26, and it runs through April 24, 2022.