Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Water by the Spoonful
Cygnet Theatre
Review by David Dixon

Melissa Ortiz and Steven Lone
Photo by 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 conquer 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 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 is about dissonance in music, which ties into the isolation that Elliot and others are facing.

Though there were some line flubs at the performance I attended, the ensemble powerfully portrays 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 characters' 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.

Water by the Spoonful runs through April 24, 2022, at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., San Diego CA. Tickets start at $25.00. For tickets and information, please visit or call 619-337-1525.