Emotions Run Deep in Cygnet’s Great Staging of ‘Water…’

Melissa Ortiz and Steven Lone. (Photos courtesy of Karli Cadel Photography.)

Drug addiction and war are two things that are difficult for many people to recover from. These topics are explored through characters attempting to overcome their inner demons in Cygnet Theatre’s terrific and riveting production of Water by the Spoonful.

Set in 2009, Elliot Ortiz (Steven Lone) is a 24-year-old Puerto Rican veteran who served with the Marines throughout his time in Iraq. Honorably discharged, he works at a Subway restaurant, and takes care of the woman who raised him, Mami Ginny, who has cancer. He becomes increasingly stressed as Ginny’s disease worsens.

At an internet chatroom for recovering drug addicts, Odessa, whose username is Haikumom (Catalina Maynard), offers to help others stay sober and live fulfilling lives.

While these two plots do not appear to connect, they eventually do further into the tale.

Every scene written by playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes is a masterful balancing act of different tones and emotions. It’s the kind of play where a segment starts off very casually, suddenly turns raw and intense and ends on a genuinely hopeful note.

Hudes’ Pulitzer-Prize winning narrative (part two of a trilogy focusing on Elliot) is often very funny, and humor comes across as both a defense mechanism and as a means of survival. The majority of the flawed souls depicted onstage go through heavy struggles and utter clever remarks to cope with personal issues.

Director, Meg DeBoard, allows the chatroom sequences to appear natural, and smartly places the performers onstage to represent virtual conversations. The tech-heavy atmosphere is further enhanced by the set by Yi-Chien Lee (her work contributes significantly to a poignant conclusion), Minjoo Kim’s lighting, MaeAnn Ross’ audio and Blake McCarty’s projections.

Ross’ use of music adds to the evening as well, particularly during a jazz lecture by Elliot’s cousin, Yazmin (Melissa Ortiz), that includes the usage of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme, Pt. 1 – Acknowledgement.” The discussion talks about dissonance in music, which ties into the isolation that Elliot and others are facing.

Emily Song Tyler, Catalina Maynard and Bryan Barbarin.

Though there were some line flubs at the performance I attended, the ensemble powerfully portrayed sympathetic personalities on the Old Town stage. Lone captures Elliot’s anger, sharp wit and heartbreak, and shows plenty of warmth in his sequences with Ortiz, who is equally well-cast as the music professor, Yazmin.

Just as strong as Lone and Ortiz is Maynard, who beautifully showcases Odessa’s nurturing attitude, as well as the obstacles she continues to face as she overcomes addiction.

As members of Odessa’s chatroom, Bryan Barbarin, Emily Song Tyler and Christian Haines are all touching, especially as their backstories are revealed to theatregoers. They create empathy playing individuals trying to stay sober and improve themselves in the process.

DeBoard’s interpretation uses sensitivity and pathos to cover serious subject matter. The themes of healing and human connection in Hudes’ script leave a lasting impact.

LINK TO DIGITAL PROGRAM

[box] Show times are Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm. [/box]

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Photo of Cygnet Theatre
Cygnet Theatre
Work Old Town Theatre 4040 Twiggs St. San Diego CA 92110 Work Phone: (619) 337-1525 Website: Cygnet Theatre website
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David Dixon

A fan of theatre from a young age, David Dixon began writing reviews while in middle school, for Union Tribune’s Rated G column and sdcnn.com. He was the Entertainment Editor for SDSU’s The Daily Aztec. Currently, he contributes to San Diego Community News Network, a regional reviewer for Talkin’ Broadway, an interviewer for San Diego Theatre Reviews and has won several San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. David is a San Diego Theatre Critics Circle member, an American Theatre Critics Association member & Regional Theatre Tony Award voter.

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