Theater Review - 'Water By the Spoonful' is an exceptionally intense experience

Pinch 'n' Ouch takes on Alegria Hudes Pulitzer Prize-winning play

Though performances at Pinch 'n' Ouch Theatre are consistently exciting and challenging, the current production of Water By the Spoonful is an exceptionally intense experience. Based on the description of the plot, one might expect a depressing evening, but the Pulitzer Prize-winning play ultimately is inspirational, and the charged performances quickly drive the action forward.

The play, by Quiara Alegria Hudes, who also wrote the book for the Broadway musical In the Heights, centers on a young war veteran who recently lost his mother and a group of self-proclaimed "crackheads" who participate in an online chat room to help each other stay sober. At the outset, this doesn't sound like a recipe for fun, particularly as it can be difficult to present characters typing in a chat room in a way that is visually interesting for the audience. The Pinch 'n' Ouch crew, however, are more than up to the challenge of making the production compelling, and the realistic dialogue creates relatable, human characters.

Director Grant McGowen keeps his actors moving throughout the play so that the chat room characters physically move into each other's spaces as quickly as the language darts around the fictional room. The intimate space of the theater ensures the audience will feel instantly drawn in to the production, but the physical movement of the characters makes clear how these people affect and move each other even without being able to see one another, and how, without this interaction, they may be stuck in place.

The play is inarguably heavy, but it avoids the typical trappings of addiction-themed art, and it's relatable for any audience member who has behavior he or she needs help to change. It handles themes of struggle and loss realistically, acknowledging the ridiculousness of self-help slogans while admitting they can be helpful. It's a careful balance of being contemporary without being too cool for its own good.

The same could be said for the performances from both seasoned veterans and intriguing newcomers. Pinch 'n' Ouch takes its name from a phrase coined by acting teacher Sanford Meisner, who was known for his truthful approach to acting, and the young actors here, including Mellisa Kunnap, Pedro Ferreira, and Lidia Hanevold, have an appealing raw energy. The distractingly pretty Kunnap makes her stage debut, and it will be exciting to see what the future holds for each of these young actors. They are well-balanced by the experienced strength of actors like Monique Grant, who is exceptional as the chat room guru HaikuMom. Even when simply censoring the expletives of the chat room, Grant is thoughtful and she grounds the play with a consistent realism. Sundiata Rush is also smoothly entertaining as chatter Chutes & Ladders.

Don't expect expensive sets and posh seating, and it's best to leave the kids at home for this one given the adult themes, but this is a vibrant production of Water By the Spoonful that will leave you excited about the current state of Atlanta theater.

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