Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Water by the Spoonful—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

Connecting the Dots

This drama is written by Quiara Alegría Hudes and directed by Josh Hecht (Profile’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Artists Rep. space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through November 19th.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org or call 503-242-0080.

This Electronic Age we live in now, purports to be one in which we humans are drawn closer together.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  We reside in an Age in which we have created chasms between our fellow beings, not bridges.  We are connected by wires and airwaves, and we trust Truth to be in those god-like machines we call computers, and on the Internet.  I believe it has been proven, with the Russian meddling in our elections and presenting “fake news” which was accepted by millions, that this is not the way to make inroads to human warmth and understanding.  Those connections, those dots, need flesh and blood as their byways, not airways.

The story we have before us is two-fold but will blend together by the end.  Elliot (Anthony Lam) is a wounded veteran of the Middle East wars, now working in a fast food restaurant.  He has come home to Philly to find his mother gravely ill and his cousin, Yaz (Crystal Ann Muñoz), a music teacher and composer, his only friend.  He meets a professor (Wasim No’Mani), who has some connections to the film business, and so he explores that path.

A seemingly separate story has Odessa (Julana Torres) in charge of an on-line chat room for crack addicts, she having been one herself.  She works at a dead-end job as a custodian.  Some of her on-line companions, who use handles to disguise their real identities, consist of Orangutan (Akari Anderson), a lost young soul, aching to find her roots, left adrift now in Japan.  Another is Chutes and Ladders (Bobby Bermea), a former surfer, now a paper-pusher at the IRS.  And our final restless soul is Fountainhead (Duffy Epstein), a self-made millionaire who has lost it all, and is now struggling with admitting that he has a problem and revealing this to his family. 

All seven of them have demons, whether it’s a war in a foreign country that haunts them, fear of failure, a mindless future ahead of them, scared of intimate relationships, etc.  In other words, a microcosm of America.  And their drug of choice for the most part, to make things seem rosier, crack.  The solution, a chat room for recovering addicts, which lessens the pain a bit.  But the real connection that needs to be made in the long run is not cyber-chatter but real, honest-to-God human contact with another flesh-and-blood being.  More I cannot reveal without being a spoiler but know that all these stories do connect, not only with each other but also with the audience.

Hudes, a heritage from Puerto Rico and current resident of West Philly, has written a powerful play about the need for unified communities, human contact, and the importance of family, whether by blood or by friendship, those are healthy addictions to have!  Hecht has taken a complicated play and circumstances and simplified it by simply streamlining the settings and relying on the writer’s words, the actor’s talent and the audience’s imagination to cement the story.

And the actors are all in top form!  Muñoz is always a pleasure to watch, whether in a musical (“…Spider Woman”), Shakespeare (“Ophelia”) or this play, all show her versatility.  It’s always worthwhile to see a show that Bermea is involved with, either as an actor or director.  Epstein has been around for some time now in the Portland scene (I’ve even shared the stage with him some years ago) and he’s always a treat to see onstage.  Anderson is a young talent and quite impressive here.  She should go far in this profession.  Torres is very good in a heavily dramatic role.  No’Mani does a nice turn in a couple of supporting roles.  And Lam, as the continuing character in some of her plays, is so natural in his approach to the character, it doesn’t even look like he’s acting.  Bravo to all!

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.