Cygnet’s post-pandemic ‘Water by the Spoonful’ to look at real families and found families
Director Meg DeBoard makes her Cygnet debut and actor Steven Lone returns to a familiar role
Over the past two years, San Diegans’ lives have been impacted by long separations from loved ones and new virtual relationships with friends and co-workers online.
That makes Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 2011 play “Water by the Spoonful” a perfect fit for this spring. It’s about an Iraq war veteran trying to find family connection and his place in the world while his aunt runs a national chat line for a desperate community of addicts who support each other hour by hour. It opens Saturday at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
“This is a beautiful and moving story that focuses on letting go of past pains, reaching out to each other in times of great need, and the nurturing of human relationships,” said Sean Murray, Cygnet’s artistic director.
Making her Cygnet directing debut is Meg DeBoard, who heads the theater program at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLN) in San Diego, holds a directing degree from the University of Essex in London and recently finished a directing fellowship at San Diego’s Old Globe. DeBoard has directed at PLN, Grossmont College and Scripps Ranch Theatre and served as assistant director to Rob Lutfy on Cygnet’s 2016 production of “When the Rain Stops Falling,” which she said had the same dreamy quality as “Water by the Spoonful.”
“I believe Sean asked me to direct this play because I’m more of a lyrical director. Even with a play that’s realistic, I look at metaphors rather than the literal when I direct,” she said. “There’s an air of magical realism to this play and he knew that’s my directing style.”
“Water by the Spoonful” is the second of of the three-play “Elliot Cycle” which Hudes wrote between 2007 and 2014. In the first play “Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue,” 19-year-old Elliot Ortiz has just returned from war and shares his battle traumas with older family members who are also war vets. The second play “Water by the Spoonful” finds Elliot, now 26, battling demons caused by the war. And in the third play, “The Happiest Song Plays Last,” Elliot finds peace and belonging.
Hudes, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, studied music before becoming a playwright. It helped her write the book for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning Latinx musical “In the Heights” and it helped with the Elliot Cycle, where each play has its own musical theme. The first play is built around a Bach fugue, which DeBoard described as melodic and cohesive in style. “Water by the Spoonful,” based on saxophonist John Coltrane’s dissonant jazz album “A Love Supreme,” has improvisation and bursts of “ugliness.” And the final play features Puerto Rican folk songs.
DeBoard said the music weaves through each play and it informs the character relationships. In “Water,” the characters blend and clash in the same physical space, in the virtual space and in the spirit world — sometimes all at the same time.
“It’s important we have these moments of overlapping. That’s like jazz,” DeBoard said. “It’s definitely a play where you should say goodbye to realism for a little bit and lean into the surprise that anything can happen.”
San Diego actor and Cygnet veteran Steven Lone stars in the play as Elliot. He played the younger version of Elliot, in “Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue,” at the now-closed Ion Theatre in Hillcrest back in 2010. DeBoard said Lone has reflected in rehearsals on how both he and Elliot have grown older, wiser and more experienced in the intervening years.
Lone, whose parents immigrated from El Salvador and Nicaragua, is one of several Latinx members in the cast. Actor Berto Fernández, who was born in Puerto Rico., is serving as the production’s cultural consultant. Another behind-the-scenes element that DeBoard said she appreciates is having a design team that is almost entirely female.
“As someone who has often been the only woman on an artistic team, it’s very encouraging and exciting, and purposeful, to be working in the company of strong, creative and collaborative women,” she said. “I have yet to see this ratio of women to men in any other show I’ve worked on professionally in San Diego.”
‘Water by the Spoonful’
When: Opens Saturday and runs through April 24. Showtimes, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: 4040 Twiggs St., San Diego
Tickets: $25 and up
Phone: (619) 337-1525
COVID protocol: Proof of full vaccine within 14 days of showtime or negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 72 hours of show, with photo ID required. Masks required only for unvaccinated guests.
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