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The 'Water by the Spoonful' Cast Spills

A Q&A on their Inspiration and Preparation

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Costume designer Raquel Barreto (left) presents to the company of “Water by the Spoonful” at the first rehearsal.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.
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Clockwise from left: Cast members Sean Carvajal, Nick Massouh, Luna Lauren Vlez, Bernard K. Addison, Josh Braaten, Sylvia Kwan and Keren Lugo at the first rehearsal for “Water by the Spoonful” by Quiara Alegra Hudes.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

The cast members of Water by the Spoonful took a break from rehearsals to tell us what drew them to this play and these roles, their experiences in Los Angeles theatre, and where they’re finding inspiration.

BERNARD K. ADDISON, CHUTES&LADDERS

“It’s searching for the heart, the rhythm, and the soul of this person within me.”

Center Theatre Group: How have you prepared for the role of Chutes&Ladders?
Bernard K. Addison: I have a friend who has a family member dealing with crack cocaine addiction, so not only did she help me with the audition; she has been a tremendous source as someone who has a personal connection to what addiction does to a family. I also find the dramaturgical information from Center Theatre Group Literary Manager Joy Meads to be very informative. But ultimately, it’s searching for the heart, the rhythm, and the soul of this person within me. Once you do that and follow the guideposts in the text, you begin to find his voice, and then my job is to get out of the way and let him speak.
How does your work as a Teaching Artist (including at Center Theatre Group!) and educator inform your performances?
As a Teaching Artist, I get to dissect a script over and over, finding windows of entry that I can engage an audience in when we are discussing a production. Also, I have seen so many shows, and so many great performances—it makes you appreciate the work and share that appreciation with young audiences as well as the older, traditional evening audience.
What is it like to return to the Center Theatre Group stage?
To be back here, this time at the Taper, is very exciting and fulfilling. My first performance in L.A. was at the Ahmanson Theatre in Romeo and Juliet, directed by the late Sir Peter Hall in 2001, and thanks to last year’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, I was able to perform there in Citizen: An American Lyric. Now the Taper makes a perfect trifecta, and with a beautiful play and cast to boot.

JOSH BRAATEN, FOUNTAINHEAD

“I knew I had to do everything in my power to try to be a part of this production.”

Center Theatre Group: What was it like to read Water by the Spoonful for the first time?
Josh Braaten: I was at a hotel with my family, so I went into the bathroom after everyone had gone to sleep, shut the door, and read the play. When I finished reading around midnight, I knew I had to do everything in my power to try to be a part of this production.
How have you prepared for the role of Fountainhead?
I studied 12-step recovery for all forms of addiction, from food to narcotics. I tried to explore many types of people and their respective obsessions and compulsions and see what common denominators exist in addicts.
What inspires you?
It’s so beautiful to be in a rehearsal room and just sit in a piece of art for weeks. After the first day, I realized that I’ve been away from live theatre for far too long. And I’m inspired by this thoughtful story that can command my absolute attention and take me on an emotional journey.

SEAN CARVAJAL, ELLIOT

“When you get a cast that’s amazing like this, you’ve hit the jackpot.”

Center Theatre Group: What resonates with you about the role of Elliot?
Sean Carvajal: His struggle with family, and his relationship with Odessa—that struggle of trying to explore this messed-up relationship with his mother. Elliot is on a journey of trying to come to terms with who he is, and how to be real with himself. There’s this question of what kind of future we will have—if we’re able to change ourselves and confront ourselves versus if we choose not to face ourselves and our demons. There are a lot of themes in this play that I think are so important and really resonated with me.
You played Elliot in a 2016 production of Water by the Spoonful. How does it feel to come back to this show now?
That production had a very short process: two and a half weeks of rehearsals and a three-week run. So the biggest thing is having more time to explore the role. Two years ago I don’t think I really understood Elliot, and I didn’t understand his journey. I think that age and time are allowing me to be more open and empathetic to what he’s going through. I have a different set of eyes. And I’m learning from Lileana Blain-Cruz, our director. And of course when you have a cast that’s new, the play is so different.
What’s it like to be making your Los Angeles theatre debut?
I haven’t explored much of L.A. yet, but I’m excited to be here. This cast blew my mind, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to play with them. It’s a cast that’s so open, they’re all heart, and it’s a great team. And the theatre’s wonderful, and it’s my first time in L.A. I’ve never been out West. I’m a New York City kid, so it’s a crazy change. The pace is different.

SYLVIA KWAN, ORANGUTAN

“I turn to my plants to remind myself of perseverance and how everything alive perseveres like the characters in the show.”

Center Theatre Group: How did you know you wanted to be in Water by the Spoonful?
Sylvia Kwan: I was struck by how unique the structure of the play was. Quiara Alegría Hudes has a way of writing that coaxes emotions out of her audience without their really knowing why. I think the way she writes is so honest and reflective of the human condition that we cannot help but identify ourselves in her characters. I loved the role of Orangutan because she is a character who used to operate and view life through her head, not her heart, and during this play she transitions to someone who operates and views her life through her heart and not her head. I’m so lucky to be playing a character that is going through her personal hero’s journey, if you will.
How have you prepared for the role of Orangutan?
A lot of my preparation has been exposing myself to her world visually—looking at the different places she inhabits and how those different environments affect who she is and where she is in her journey. I’ve been listening to the music found throughout the show, and I’ve also been listening to a lot of music that makes me feel more connected to Orangutan as a character. I daydream about what her life is like and what she thinks about. And I turn to my plants (I’m an avid gardener) to remind myself of perseverance and how everything alive perseveres like the characters in the show. It reminds me to continuously discover the different ways that my character perseveres, too.
What is your favorite thing about this cast and crew?
This cast and crew is so full of love and acceptance. From the first day you could sense that we were in a safe space for us to explore and create artistically while being true to ourselves, bringing our personal histories and experiences into creating the same world. I love how everyone brings their A game to every rehearsal while maintaining the playfulness and joy of creating and acting. I love that during this experience I’ve turned to my cast mates to exclaim how much I love acting and they agree, having rediscovered the same thing. I love how energetic and inspiring our director is.

KEREN LUGO, YAZMIN

“[Hudes] is one of the best writers out there, and I’m inspired by her beautiful, complex, and profound stories that center on the Latino experience.”

Center Theatre Group: What do you love most about the role of Yazmin and the work of Quiara Alegría Hudes?
Keren Lugo: I love Yazmin’s courage to finally accept the things that make her who she is and her courage to start over. Quiara’s work is LIFE. There is no other way to describe it. She is one of the best writers out there, and I’m inspired by her beautiful, complex, and profound stories that center on the Latino experience.
What is your favorite thing about this cast and crew?
The energy from everyone here is uplifting. Truly a dream. I love how lively everyone is. There is a lot of dancing and randomly bursting into song in the rehearsal room. It’s a fun group.
What inspires you?
Stories that are so infused with life that you wonder if the writer has been living her life next to you all along. Stories that explore the Latino experience in all its complexities. Stories about women.

NICK MASSOUH, PROFESSOR AMAN, GHOST, POLICEMAN

“I consider myself a storyteller, whether I’m acting, writing, or directing.”

Center Theatre Group: What resonates with you about this play and these roles?
Nick Massouh: I love the writing. As an actor, to be able to work on beautiful language is very inspiring and freeing. I also think that the material really resonates with me on a lot of levels, having recently experienced loss myself. And in terms of the characters that I play, I always love when there’s a nice Arab-American or Middle Eastern perspective in material today, and when it’s done with care and thoughtfulness.
What’s it like to move from stage to screen and back?
With theatre there’s such an opportunity to dig into the material and a space to discover your character and the story in a collaborative manner. Whereas with film and television, the time is so much more compressed that the collaboration is much less, and it’s much more upon you to just bring your performance to the table. To sit in a rehearsal room and do the work is why we do acting.
What inspires you?
Stories. I consider myself a storyteller, whether I’m acting, writing, or directing. The power of stories is something I love to create, share, watch, learn from.

LUNA LAUREN VÉLEZ, ODESSA

“I literally feel like a kid.”

Center Theatre Group: In 2014 you appeared in The Happiest Song Plays Last, the third play in the Elliot Trilogy. (Water by the Spoonful is the second.) What is it like to return to this story?
Luna Lauren Vélez: Odessa was mentioned in The Happiest Song Plays Last, but it really talks more about Ginny, and I played Yaz. So to come back and play this character just takes me deeper into this whole experience of Elliot’s world, and his journey through life with this incredibly complicated family.
What resonates with you about Odessa?
There’s something about a person who is seeking redemption for their past sins, and how they think that the entire world responds to them as this person who’s committed this act, so they see themselves through what they presume to be the judgment of others. I feel that her daily struggle to just get up and be her truest self and deal with everything that she’s done in the past that has led her up to this moment and to become this person who is committed to saving other people is extraordinary.
What excites you about returning to the Taper stage?
I did Intimate Apparel here with Viola Davis, and I have been wanting to return for such a long time. It’s really a beautiful theatre with theatre history, which in L.A. is I think kind of a big deal. Being back in rehearsal here, it feels like there’s really room to explore and to organically have these characters get to know each other and for the cast to get to know each other through actual play, and talking, and exploring, and really taking our time doing it. I literally feel like a kid.
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