The dissonant music of American jazz innovator John Coltrane is a small but important part of The Actors’ Group production of “Water by the Spoonful,” playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes’ 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about a Puerto Rican family and some crack addicts in contemporary America.
“Dissonant” can be defined either as “a lack of harmony among musical notes” or as “a clash between disharmonious elements.” Both definitions are relevant here.
Elliot and Yasmin Ortiz are cousins. Elliot is back from service in Iraq with a permanently damaged leg, a dependence on pain medication and recurring visions of the first Iraqi civilian he killed. He wants to be an actor but works at a neighborhood Subway shop. Yasmin is successful and upward bound; she teaches music theory at a local college and owns a Steinway grand piano.
Several other characters are members of an online support group for recovering crack addicts. “Haikumom” is the moderator who doggedly deletes hostile posts. “Orangutan” is a Japanese woman who was adopted at birth by an American couple and raised in Maine. “Chutes and Ladders” is a middle-aged African-American IRS employee “10 years clean” whose experiences have left him somewhat timid and reluctant to try new things.
New to the site is a wealthy executive-on-the-way-down who uses the alias “Fountainhead.” He eventually admits he is an active drug user but refuses to identify as an addict. “Orangutan” and “Chutes and Ladders” respond so scornfully to his evasions that “Fountainhead” logs off.
Hudes reveals the connection between the Ortiz cousins and the support group shortly before intermission.
Even allowing for the distractions that were part of Thursday’s rehearsal performance — the tech crew and their gear occupied much of the theater’s small audience area — director Peggy Anne Siegmund and her cast make it natural to invest emotionally in whether individual characters will succeed or fail.
TAG veteran Thomas C. Smith (Fountainhead) gives an uncomfortably convincing portayal of a crackhead — a wretched being who is out of control, self-hating and pitiful all in one. James C. Roberts (Chutes and Ladders), last seen as the sincere and mistreated suitor in TAG’s spring production of “Coyotes,” is immediately likeable as a cautious, older-and-wiser crack survivor. Christine Umipeg-Apilado (Orangutan) is impressive in her stage debut as a tough yet vulnerable crack survivor who slowly learns to open up and reach out.
“WATER BY THE SPOONFUL”
By Quiara Alegria Hudes; directed and sound by Peggy Anne Siegmund; set design by Siegmund and Andy Alvarado; lighting design by Thomas Tochiki; costumes by Chris Valles; running time: 2:14
>> Where: Brad Powell Theatre, 650 Iwilei Road
>> When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through July 23
>> Cost: $30 general admission, $25 for seniors, $20 for students and military
>> Info: (808) 722-6941 or taghawaii.net