BC Theater Continues Season With “Water By The Spoonful”

Promotional image./The Dept. of Theater at Brooklyn College

Gabriela Flores


   As the Department of Theater comes to the end of its 2021 winter season, production continued last week with “Water By The Spoonful,” a show that interchangeably moves from a struggling Puerto Rican-rooted family dealing with death and other tensions to an online support group for recovering addicts. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist ​​Quiara Alegría Hudes, and directed by Francisco Solorzano, the play goes knee-deep into the importance of human connection. In doing so, it illustrates the emotional tolls of PTSD, overdose, and other internal struggles. 

   The play first opened up with cousins Elliot (Michael Adrian Burgos) and Yaz (Monica Ugarte), who are seemingly polar opposites. Elliot wears a Subway shirt as his work uniform and speaks Spanglish, while the latter sports a suit and is later revealed to be a professor who struggles to speak Spanish. As Elliot and Yaz talk, one quickly realizes how close yet so unaware of each other’s problems they are – with one cousin hesitant to share why he needs something translated and the other going through a complicated divorce. At the backdrop of it all, Elliot talks about his concerns over his adopted mother Ginny, who’s his biological aunt and is undergoing chemo.  

   As the opening scene unravels at a steady pace that carries on throughout the show and lets out the many layers of each character, the audience finds out Elliot is an Iraq War veteran with some secrets. Going into scene 2, the audience finds themself in the digital world of a recovering addicts support group with Chutes&Ladders (Ebenezer Adjei), Orangutan (Estelle Lee), and HaikuMom (Camila Pérez Santiago), who’s later revealed to be Elliot’s biological mother. 

   There was incredible chemistry between the three, who were first introduced in a triangle formation with each in their respective spaces: Odessa in her living room at a desktop; Chutes&Ladders in his IRS workplace; Orangutan in Japan pursuing a job. Noticeably, you see that the actors are feeding off each other’s energy, making for a tight-knit and playful bond connected through the struggle of maintaining sobriety. The comedic relief of such heavy topics like drug addiction is added by the one-liner of HaikuMom, or Odessa, who flatly says “censored” for every curse word used between Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders. 

    Once introductions are made, the audience looks into the nitty-gritty of Elliot’s post-traumatic disorder from the war: a ghost who repeats an Arabic phrase Elliot wanted to be translated earlier in the show. The ghost (Brendan Ahmed) comes out with exposed flesh across half of his face. The lighting, paired with the ghost’s eerie calls towards Elliot, speaks volumes of war trauma. Sure, not everyone may have been on the battlefield, but you gain a sense of the emotional scarring prevalent years after discharge through Burgos and Ahmed’s exchange. For as long as Ahmed stays in the scene, Burgos doesn’t make any eye contact – but the ghost’s presence ultimately torments him. 

    The complexity of “Water by the Spoonful” doesn’t lag whatsoever afterward. There are moments where subtleties of each actor’s performances carry the show’s immersion for viewers. Whether it be through an intimate fight between Elliot and his ghost when they finally meet eye-to-eye, or the introduction of new user Fountainhead (Harrison Hernandez) on the recovering addicts’ site, each actor undoubtedly gave their all on closing night. 

    Not to mention, many scenes beautifully depict the humanity of each character and their gradual understanding of self and others. There’s no dull moment, all serving a purpose to the larger scheme of the show. One of the most noteworthy is when Odessa relapses after a tense conversation with her son Elliot and niece Yaz, where they talk about her late daughter who died from dehydration. It’s this shoveled-up past that explains the family’s strains and inevitably forces the audience to reckon with the high emotions exuding from the stage. 

   Pérez Santiago’s portrayal of Odessa encompasses the high stakes of her character’s return to drugs – not only for herself but for those closest to her. When Elliot and Yaz arrive at Odessa’s home, they find her lying on the ground, and they soon begin to panic and worry they have pushed her over the edge. On cue, the light follows Pérez Santiago’s spirit as she sheds tears, and Yaz looks up to the same light and calls on her aunt to be free. This scene translated so powerfully to the audience despite it being the most difficult to tap into for actress Ugarte as Yaz. 

    “I don’t know what happened, but that is the first time that I’ve ever really been connected to that scene. I remember crying, looking at Camila [Pérez Santiago], and just like taking in the whole scene. And it was so different,” Ugarte told The Vanguard when describing the weight of the scene during the production’s opening day.

    Besides these challenges, Ugarte found comfort and friendship with her colleagues, making her first in-person BC production memorable. 

    “It was such a great environment that you never dreaded coming to rehearsal and working with each other, especially because everyone was also so professional and funny. So out of those, like really heart-wrenching moments, we could just try to pull ourselves out together and have a laugh,” she said. 

   This closeness carried on from behind the scenes to center stage and into pairings like Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders. Though they mostly communicated over their screens, the audience saw them experience a full-circle moment where they met face-to-face in Japan. Lee and Adjei’s performance was awe-inspiring, with the audience feeling the relief and joy of their respective characters in finally meeting a longtime friend. 

   The cast’s chemistry doesn’t end there. Once Odessa heads into her recovery after relapsing, she quickly becomes dependent on Fountainhead, who is ultimately pushed by circumstances to be there for his one friend that made him realize his drug problems. It’s this selflessness that actor Hernandez perfectly portrayed through his individual performance and care for Pérez Santiago’s character that shows a side far less self-absorbed than what was initially introduced of Fountainhead. 

   With the play’s departure set on a beach in the family’s native Puerto Rico, and Odessa’s home in the background, the audience sees the show in its totality. As Burgos steps into a prop that emanates a waterfall, and Pérez Santiago rises from her tub with Fountainhead’s aid, one sees the production’s key: as cliche as it may sound, life is worth living in spite of the hurdles. 

   “Whatever anybody believes in religiously or if they’re not religious, it just makes you think about the afterlife and just making sure that you make your time on this earth worth it. I would say that’s really what I’ve gained from this show,” said Ugarte.