As previously mentioned, Lyric Stage Company of Boston assembled one of the best seasons in Boston this year. For their fortieth year, Lyric Stage Company pulled out the big guns with silly and smart farces to beautiful and serene dramas to insightful and challenging musicals. For their second production of the season, Lyric Stage Company presents Quiara Alegría Hudes’ incredibly moving Water by the Spoonful. To call this production anything short of dazzling is to understate its success. Much of the success belongs to director Scott Edmiston, who understands how to tell a good story. He recognizes the comedy in every tragedy, and the tragedy in every comedy. His moments are crisp and realized, allowing his cast to push their characters, their interactions, and their conflicts to their limits. In a word, he is a poet and his poetry sings like falling water.
Easily the standout artist is Sasha Castroverde. I fell in love with Castroverde in her Much Ado About Nothing . . . With a Twist with Bad Habit Productions. I think she is wonderfully versatile in her humor and drama. Her ability to create a character who has rich emotions and mannerisms allows the audience to fall in love with her again and again, no matter what role she plays. I am incredibly thankful that I could see her passion and commitment in this beautiful role. In particular, she brings out the best in her scene partners, one of my favorite characteristics and skills in an actor. Her scenes with Gabriel Rodriguez are heartbreakingly beautiful and their chemistry is some of the most relatable. I think an actor and actress playing platonic family members is one of the hardest relationships to create; you’re both loving and detached, and you care in a profoundly non-romantic way. Rodriguez and Castroverde hit exactly the right dynamic for their characters and their interactions, which creates a moving experience.
I can’t say that I was a huge fan of Rodriguez overall. He had some wonderful moments, but I couldn’t buy into his relationship (or lack thereof) with Haikumom, aka Odessa (played with beautiful simplicity by Mariela Lopez-Ponce). Rodriguez seemed to flounder in a few scenes, knowing his emotions but never quite reaching the apex in the scenes. I wanted to feel for him and his emotional journey, but I felt myself withdrawn. His confrontations were strong, but his reflections and other moments seemed weak, not from insecurity but from lack of heart. Lopez-Ponce delivers a strong performance in her ability to emote through silence. Her finest moment is when she releases a stream of tears, silently breaking down before our eyes. Her resilience before this moment sells the transition for me. Lopez-Ponce’s Odessa is strong, which makes her weakness that much more heartbreaking. Her dichotomous cyber and real lives establish the many facets of Odessa for the audience. Only we, the audience, see the true Odessa as a composite of these parts.
The host of other characters who round out the cast are wonderfully constructed with excellent commitment to their stories. Chutes&Ladders (played with skillful stoicism by Johnny Lee Davenport) has the most beautiful journey of these characters. Davenport knows when to show his hand, as it were, and his emotional resonance is strong when he shows the man’s true colors in his scenes with Orangutan (played with exuberance by Theresa Nguyen). Nguyen has some of the production’s most extreme choices, choosing her sass to hit the audience like a freight-train. Nguyen makes her character relatable and likeable in her softer moments, which are wonderfully contrasted by her more bombastic personality for the majority of the show. Indeed, all of the characters embody their characters’ extremes, relishing in the challenge to highlight their emotional journey throughout the show.
As always, the Lyric Stage Company boasts an impressive technical staff which does not nearly complement the performance but stands on its own ground as stunning display of artistry. Richard Wadsworth Chambers’ set design uses the space to excellent effect, particularly his view of cyberspace. The placement of the actors onstage both isolates and illuminates them in their online interactions. One of the most beautiful moments occurs when Fountainhead, aka John (played with soulful strength by Gabriel Kuttner) bathes Lopez-Ponce’s Odessa upstage in a beautiful pool of light, thanks in-no-small part to Lighting Designer Karen Perlow. The lighting also help transition the scenes in a seamless and beautiful way.
Water by the Spoonful is an emotional journey of heart and regret, a soulful exploration about to whom we consider family. Edmiston skillfully directed his cast to excellent effect to heighten and embellish these relationships. The beauty of these characters finding their place and relationships makes this production a treasure to watch and a gem to enjoy. Lyric Stage Company is off to a strong start, and they have some other jewels of productions for the rest of their season; don’t miss them!