Coping with Addiction Powerfully Portrayed in IndyFringe’s Latest Show: Water By the Spoonful

I had the great fortune of seeing Wisdom Tooth Theatre’s production of Water By the Spoonful last Friday evening at the IndyFringe Basile Theater. Last time I attended a play at IndyFringe, I came away thinking I didn’t know enough about theater to provide the TrndyIndy readers with a comprehensive or deep enough look at the play. Water by the Spoonful was different. The subject matter was so human and gripping, and the performances were so well done, that it would be impossible to not be deeply affected by a subject that is both very raw and very real. Truly, one short blog post can’t fully express all that I got out of this beautiful performance, which was completely enhanced by the talent on stage.

Basic RGBWater By the Spoonful follows two parallel stories. Elliot Ortiz (played by Mauricia Miranda) is an Iraq War veteran haunted by his time in the service. His story is interwoven with an online chat room of strangers coping with addiction to crack cocaine. It seems like a strange juxtaposition- the vivid daily struggle of Elliott trying to get back into “real life” in his job at a Subway sandwich shop, next to the backdrop of a seemingly-unrelated online haven for struggling junkies. Only after the first act do we see how these two opposite worlds intersect.

Many reviews of this 2012 Pulitzer-winning work by Quiara Alegria Hudes focus on Elliot’s story and rightfully so. The story is compelling and one with which many of us cannot identify. Having never served overseas, I cannot fathom the distant world of Iraq, nor the struggles to integrate back into society after experiencing war abroad. But Miranda’s honest and deep portrayal gave the audience a small glimpse of the skeletons that haunt soldiers when they return home. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for him and those like him, and wonder about the ghosts surrounding all of us on a daily basis.

But the more compelling current running through this story is the heartbreaking depiction of loneliness and addiction. The subject matter here is not light. Anyone who has had loved ones struggle with addiction will be able to tell you about the isolation that encompasses everyone involved in an addict’s story. Whether it’s the addict searching for solace in a chat room (where, as this play shows us, it’s very easy to cultivate an identity that doesn’t quite stack up to the reality outside a computer screen), or those who are struggling to help an addict while feeling lost, this work shows all sides. How does one acknowledge their past, but not let it define them? As we move through life, how do we acknowledge, respect and even love what made us who we are, yet continue to change and evolve into who we wish to become?

Water by the Spoonful is a realistic, yet poetic, look at addiction. It is an important voice, helping us question how addiction, in any form, does and does not define us.  How it damages the families we have, how it brings them together, and how recovery builds us new families, whether literal or virtual. Even the overall script and structure of the play reflects that of an addiction. At times it is light and humorous, but more often it is filled with anger, fear, desperation, and ultimately, small but deeply necessary glimmers of hope.

A Yiddish proverb reads, “If a man is destined to drown, he will drown in even a spoonful of water.” I thought of it often throughout this play, not just because of the similar wording to the play’s title, but because each scene was a question. Are Elliot and the cast of characters surrounding him destined to drown or are they ready to swim?

The play runs long at two hours, but it is a powerful work, and one that we should be proud to host in Indianapolis. There are two more chances to see the talented folks of Wisdom Tooth Theater- Friday, October 23rd and Saturday, October 24th. Both performances begin at 8 p.m.

Purchase your tickets here.

Written by: Molly Sender

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