REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Water by the Spoonful


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Water by the Spoonful

Directed by Henry Godinez

At Court Theatre, Chicago

Over theatricals mare quirky play

I was baffled by director Henry Godnez’s use of swift movement that found his seven member cast walking and running about the stage in circular and dance sequences. But once they stopped, the work became a darkly comic work about one Puerto Rican family’s troubles with crack addiction as well as the effects of Elliot’s traumatic adventures in the Iraq War.

Water by the Spoonful, amazingly, won  the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It is the second work in Hudes’ Elliott Cycle.  This work is a series of scenes that jump about from the Ortiz family story featuring Elliot (Edgar Miguel Sanchez) and his addicted mother, Odessa, aka Haikumon online (Charin Alvarez). We see Elliot as a mad-at-the world Iraq War veteran struggling with the ghost of an Iraqi man he killed.

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Interspersed, are the four members of an online support group of crack cocaine addicts as each struggle daily with their addiction. We see Haikumon lead the group and be its censor for foul language. She can lead the group yet she can’t seem to handle her life off line. The Internet becomes a place of safety and understanding for these addicts. We see their struggles for redemption from their constant personal failings due to their drug use. We how Chutes&Ladders (Dexter Zollicoffer) fights to stay clear. Fountainhead (Daniel Cantor) is in denial that he is an addict yet his family obligations somewhat motivate him to get and stay clean. Orangutan (Marissa Lichwick) is the Asian-American who travels back to Japan in search of her birth parents as her means of cleansing her addiction.

Add Yaznin Ortiz (Yadira Correa), Elliot’s older cousin, the music professor who loves John Coltran’s jazz music especially his use of dissonance ( two note that don’t seem to go together but do). She tries to stabilize the family and help both Odessa and Elliot cure their demons.

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This work covers from Philadelphia to Japan to San Diego to Puerto Rico back to Iraq. As this work jumps around from story to story, it comes off to me as confusing, over staged work about a group of addicts with whom I have little empathy. There are too many relapses and hostile encounters by most of the characters for me to care about them. I’s like to know more about Elliot’s traumatic experience in Iraq so that maybe I could care about him but given what i do know, I simply don’t care.

While it sure was tragic how Odessa, play with haunting realism by Charin Alvarez, disintegrated physically and emotionally, again she ultimately came off as another pathetic addict.  If this play is suppose to be about forgiveness and redemption (as the press note indicate), I sure didn’t get that from what I witnessed. The characters tended to aggravate me more that evoke any empathy. I left the play wondering what I missed to maybe make this worth seeing?  I wanted to know more about Elliot.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: March 15, 2014

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Water by the Spoonful page at

At Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis, Chicago, IL, call 773-753-4472,, tickets $45 – $65,  Wednesdays 7 Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through April 6, 2014


One thought on “Water by the Spoonful

  • Before my comment, Mr. Williams, a disclaimer: I am not going to bash you because you did not like this show. Its reviews have generally been cooler than I think it deserves, but differences in aesthetic taste do not merit how savagely I’m going to attack you. I am going to bash you for your *reasons* for not liking the play, which are symptomatic of a huge issue in the way you, like our culture generally, regards addiction and mental illness.

    You complain that the play is “about a group of addicts with whom I have little empathy”. Not empathising with the characters in a show like this is certainly a problem, but given the reasons behind your lack of empathy, I’m confident that the problem is yours, not the show’s.

    “There are too many relapses and hostile encounters by most of the characters,” you say, “for me to care about them.” I wonder: how many relapses an addict can have before you stops caring about them? (Incidentally, the number of relapses in this 2.5 hour ensemble piece about drug addiction? 2. So I’m assuming that number isn’t too high.)

    You miss that drug addiction, like any mental illness, is a daily struggle. You take the view that succumbing to an ingrained, will-crushing need like addiction is an act of weakness. You frame the efforts of recovering addicts with negatives, and blame victims of addiction for their problems. You complain that the show killed his empathy for its characters, but given the frankly heartless attitude you take toward addiction and mental illness throughout your piece, I think it’s more likely that you never had any.

    I wouldn’t care that you see the most tragic character in this play as “ultimately[…] another pathetic drug addict”, except that you have a relatively major (in the world of Chicago theatre, by which I mean: in my world) platform with which to voice your deeply unsympathetic opinion, and that opinion reinforces our culture’s troubling problem regarding addicts and mentally ill people as just that – people.

    Look no further back than Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose recent relapse and OD shook the theatre world last month. Consensus among the less-empathetic voices seems to be that Hoffman deserves no sympathy for being weak, instead of all the sympathy for being so strong as long as he did. This idea stems from the mistaken perception that addiction is a mere vice that can be stemmed with a bit of self-control, rather than a life-ruling and all too often – ruining force that takes an unbelievable amount of strength and courage to face and fight.

    You have no time for this kind of compassionate nonsense: “The characters tended to aggravate me more that evoke any empathy”.

    Well, Tom Williams, I’m sure sorry the challenges faced by people struggling with drugs “aggravate” you. Believe me, they aggravate us too.

    Elsewhere, Tom Williams, you have written, “I advise people to be extremely open-minded and just let a show into their hearts and minds. If they do that, most theatrical works will entertain and enlighten them. It works.” (

    If you truly believe that, Mr. Williams, I ask that you take a look at that principle of yours and ask yourself whether you’re truly living up to it in your reviews.

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