“Water by the Spoonful” feeds audiences another dark drama from the Experimental Theatre

by Ryo Miyauchi, Asst. Entertainment Editor

San Diego State’s School of Theatre, Television and Film presented its second night of the Pulitzer-winning play “Water by the Spoonful” last Saturday, Nov. 1, at the Experimental Theatre. Although local rock heroes Switchfoot played its homecoming show at the nearby Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre at the same time, the production brought had a good turnout to the intimate-sized Experimental Theatre.

“Water by the Spoonful” followed Iraqi war vet Elliot Ortiz (Bernardo Mazon) and his cousin Yazmin (Pamela Basurto) as they receive the tragic news of the death of Elliot’s aunt, who raised Elliot as her own son. While he deals with the grief of his mother’s passing, Elliot also struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder developed from his time as a marine. Throughout the story, Yazmin is the calm, collected foil to the hot-tempered Elliot.

The story also introduced web users Orangutan (Stephanie Kwik) and Chutes and Ladders (Ryan Payne) in an online site thread, led by site administrator Haikumom (Nia Hilton). The three chatted from their respective locations, San Diego, Japan and Philadelphia. As new user Fountainhead (Christian Murphy) enters the conversation, it’s revealed the thread is for recovering addicts of crack cocaine to help prevent each other from relapsing.

Director C. J. Keith carefully untangled this complicated web of relationships, struggles and worlds by utilizing the unique setup of the Experimental Theatre. The main location of the story, Philadelphia where Elliot and Yaz resides, was played out in the center. Meanwhile, the online users sat at the outer edges to play out the conversations in the web thread. The theater lights dimmed into a deep purple and whispers looped in surround sound to reenact Elliot’s flashbacks due to his PTSD. Likewise, a running string of light shined  on the actors in the corners of the stage to signify an online user has logged onto the site.

No matter how harsh the content, “Water by the Spoonful” is ultimately a story of redemption and overcoming personal demons. PTSD and cocaine addiction seem like separate issues at first, but the production makes a great case that the two are related in struggle. Both haunt every waking hour of the affected, and neither experiences are so simple to find supporters who empathize with the problem. The story reaches out to the audience to observe these issues with an open, earnest mind.

“Water by the Spoonful” deals with people coping with trauma and addiction, so the dialog often concerns dark matters. However, the heavy drama was well balanced by light-hearted humor, and the actors brought out the comedic charm of every character. Mazon played Elliot as a suave character, delivering jokes full of cool and silliness. Kwik and Payne shot Chute and Ladder’s sly remarks playfully. And Hilton added a human side to her challenging dual roles of online mother figure Haikumom and dysfunctional real-life mother of Elliot.

Following the previous “Rabbit Hole,” “Water by the Spoonful” opens the forum for another sensitive yet important conversation. And like the production before, both director and cast handle the bleak theme gracefully with a balanced dose of drama and comedy. The fantastic production continues until Sunday, Nov. 9, at the Experimental Theatre. Addiction and trauma might be complicated to discuss, but the new School of Theatre, Television and Film production make the serious talk a bit easier to start.