Theatre review: Water by the Spoonful at the Long Beach Playhouse

Lives+of+the+characters+played+by+%28from+left%29+Rose+Kim%2C+Jeff+Jacobs%2C+Marco+Andrew+Estrada%2C+Maria+V.+Oliveira%2C+Synida+Fontes%2C+Robin+Harrison%2C+and+Jonathan+Garcia+all+become+intertwined+via+an+addiction+online+chat+room.
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Theatre review: Water by the Spoonful at the Long Beach Playhouse

Lives of the characters played by (from left) Rose Kim, Jeff Jacobs, Marco Andrew Estrada, Maria V. Oliveira, Synida Fontes, Robin Harrison, and Jonathan Garcia all become intertwined via an addiction online chat room.

Lives of the characters played by (from left) Rose Kim, Jeff Jacobs, Marco Andrew Estrada, Maria V. Oliveira, Synida Fontes, Robin Harrison, and Jonathan Garcia all become intertwined via an addiction online chat room.

Michael Hardy

Lives of the characters played by (from left) Rose Kim, Jeff Jacobs, Marco Andrew Estrada, Maria V. Oliveira, Synida Fontes, Robin Harrison, and Jonathan Garcia all become intertwined via an addiction online chat room.

Michael Hardy

Michael Hardy

Lives of the characters played by (from left) Rose Kim, Jeff Jacobs, Marco Andrew Estrada, Maria V. Oliveira, Synida Fontes, Robin Harrison, and Jonathan Garcia all become intertwined via an addiction online chat room.

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A trip upstairs to Long Beach Playhouse’s Studio Theatre transports audiences to Philadelphia, San Diego, Japan, Puerto Rico and the World Wide Web in this endearingly simple production of Quiara Alegria Hudes’ acclaimed play about forgiveness, understanding, struggle, community, redemption and healing.

At the core of Water by the Spoonful is a tight-knit ensemble of seven with impossibly-sincere chemistry. Small ensembles are interesting because there is little room for error and nowhere to hide amongst such minimal company. Though Synida Fontes’ character serves as the epicenter of the proceedings, it is largely to her credit that this cast rises to the challenge as a refreshingly cohesive unit with no showboating or scenery-chewing moments to be found at all.

Discharged Iraq Marine-veteran Elliot Oritz (Marco Andrew Estrada) is haunted by an Arabic phrase (repeated ad nauseam by utility player Jonathan Garcia) and by his on-the-mend body. He takes his frustrations out on his recovering addict mother, Odessa (Fontes), whom he relentlessly berates for his unideal childhood.

Elliot’s cousin Yazmin (Maria V. Oliveira) serves as a mediator between the two and a confidant for Elliot. Oliveira demonstrates effortless poise and control in her role, providing an excellent foil to Estrada’s mastery of exhibiting rage and spitefulness.

With little embrace from her family, Odessa’s support system primarily comes from the internet on an addiction recovery chatroom in which she messages under the handle Haikumom. She moderates the forum and routinely chats with and dispenses advice to Chutes&Ladders (Robin Harrison), Orangutan (Rose Kim), and Fountainhead (Jeff Jacobs).

Fontes serves as the workhorse leader during the chatroom scenes to great effect, but all members of the chat bring their own zest to their functionally dysfunctional dynamic: Jacob’s Fountainhead originally struggles to garner the respect of the chatroom, but eventually becomes a faithful recovery partner for Odessa.

Kim’s Orangutan is a cynic, but playful and fun-loving, akin to Margot Robbie’s take on Harley Quinn. Harrison’s Chutes&Ladders plays the curmudgeon well and displays touching vulnerability. Kim and Harrison together make quite the unlikely, but formidable team—their scenes together are very dynamic and are the true standout moments of the show.

The most awe-inspiring thing about Water by the Spoonful is its evident lack of weakness: every choice made for the show is deliberate and purposeful, and every onstage or offstage contributor truly pulls their weight.

Direction by Ryan Holihan with assistance from Juan Parada (Assistant Director), Nicolas Lamb (Stage Manager), and Kaelah Franklin (Assistant Stage Manager) keep the production’s flow tight and scene changes immaculately seamless—very impressive for a show with a crew of less than 20, nearly half of whom are the costume department.

It just proves that it does not take deep pockets to execute a picture-perfect piece of theatre. If the minds behind a show are sharp enough, the sky is the limit. For this local production, the bar has now been raised rather high.

Water by the Spoonful runs until August 17 at the Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St. Tickets are on sale at cost between $14 to $24. Online ticketing is available at lbplayhouse.org. The theater’s box office can be reached at (562) 494-1014.