Though she’s not even 40, playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. And in 2012, she actually won for Water by the Spoonful, her ensemble drama about family legacies and drug addiction.
Interestingly, the “professional” theater companies in Pittsburgh all must have passed on premiering the work locally, and so the show makes its debut at University of Pittsburgh Stages, featuring a student cast and directed with grace and intelligence by Ricardo Vila-Roger.
There are actually two plays happening inside Water by the Spoonful. Hudes introduces us to four people who communicate only in a chat room. They meet in cyberspace because they’re crack addicts, and turn to each other in hopes they won’t turn to the drug.
Since people no longer communicate face to face but illuminated palm to illuminated palm, theater has got to find a way to incorporate tweets, IMs, postings, etc. Nobody wants to watch a bunch of people typing and tapping away while — helpfully! — reading aloud what they’re writing.
Hudes (and Vila-Roger) free up the characters by having them compose their posts to the audience; though they’re speaking to one another, they never make eye contact. This allows the actors to move around the stage while making the point that virtual connection isn’t actual connection.
Sol Crespo (a Pitt guest artist) plays the moderator of the room and gives a truly remarkable, deeply felt performance; it’s simply impossible to take your eyes off her. Christopher Collier and Anna Chen are funny and poignant as two addicts using all the intelligence and cynicism they possess to keep clean. Alex Dittmar makes a strong impression as a man coming to terms with his addiction.
The other plotline concerns an Iraq-war veteran burying a family member … with all the typical dysfunctional family angst you usually get in a play. The two stories eventually join up, and while Hudes’ writing is beautiful throughout, the addiction half is the stronger of the two. The family drama focuses on a woman we never meet and concerns events from long ago, placing much of it in the past tense.
But the addiction play has power, heart and Crespo in a mesmerizing performance.