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‘Water by the Spoonful’ is a remarkable journey at Road Less Traveled

“Why is our family plagued?”

While that may sound like a bit of a melodramatic question, by the time it is uttered in the second act of “Water by the Spoonful,” the audience is asking themselves the same question. The Pulitzer-prize-winning play offers a raw, at times uncomfortably painful look inside the lives of a family struggling with an assortment of demons and their eventual interaction with a group of equally broken souls via an Internet chat room.

“Water,” now on stage at Road Less Traveled Productions, takes its audience on a winding journey of pain and possibilities, pulling back the curtain on addiction, family dysfunction, love, loss and redemption.

Eliot Ortiz (Anthony Alcocer) is a young man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. A military veteran who served in Iraq, he has returned home after suffering a serious leg injury to care for his dying mother while eking out a menial living at a sandwich shop. The play opens in a park where he sits with his cousin Yaz (Rosa Fernandez) waiting for an unknown man to arrive. From the beginning two things are abundantly clear – you are in for a heavy evening, and Alcocer and Fernandez have the chops to take you to the edge and back, something they masterfully do throughout the two-hour show.

While we learn about the Ortiz family and the many challenges they face, there is a second story unwinding, told through the lives of four strangers who meet in an online chat room for recovering crack addicts.

What we don’t know yet is how these two worlds are connected, and the journey to finding out offers one of the strongest collective performances you’ll see.

The first thing that hits you with “Water” is the clever, at times edgy writing. Example: When Eliot and Yaz are debating what kind of flowers to get for the funeral of his mother she suggests the entire concept is a bit morbid given that the flowers will also die.

“Would you like some death with your death?”

She then suggests they opt for carnations, to which Eliot deadpans, “Do you know what a carnation says? They were out of roses at the 7-Eleven.”

So often strong dialogue can be watered down by ineffective delivery, the actors reading as though they have a cab double-parked outside the theater with the meter running. Not so with this group. When addressing addictions to crack, the ravages of cancer, or the failing of a marriage, the lengthy pauses allowing the audience to soak in the gravity of the words were brilliant to the point of being uncomfortable. And isn’t that the idea? Why should talking about real life be comfortable?

Whether it’s a 50-something IRS agent with the username Chutes&Ladders (Jonathan Foreman), a Japanese adoptee who goes by Orangutan (Sara Kow-Falcone), a white-collar crack head named Fountainhead (Dave Hayes), or the chat room moderator, Haikumom (Victoria Perez), the commingling of these addicted souls makes for powerful theater. Each actor tackled their respective roles as addicts with grit and passion and the result was one of the best supporting casts you’ll ever see in Buffalo.

Along this journey these strangers from such vastly different worlds find that the single tie that binds them – addiction – has a funny way of leveling the playing field.

For the Ortiz family, it takes the death of the family matriarch to force them to dig deep into a series of long-festering family wounds in search of true, lasting healing.

If you are looking for a night of theater to escape reality and have a few laughs, you’ll want to take a pass. But if you want to go down the rabbit hole for a night that will leave you feeling variations of grateful, compassionate, sad, and mentally exhausted, than make your way to the Market Arcade and bid farewell to this gem of a theatrical space with some “Water by the Spoonful.”

Review

3.5 stars

What: “Water by the Spoonful”

Where: Road Less Traveled Productions, Market Arcade, 639 Main St.

When: Through May 24

Tickets: $33 general, $15 students

Info: 629-3069, roadlesstraveledproductions.org

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