Water by the Spoonful, The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Lyric Stage
October 18 – November 16, 2013

By Quiara Alegría Hudes
Directed by Scott Edmiston
Role: Chutes&Ladders

As Chutes&Ladders, recalling what it was like to almost drown and to get a second chance. (PHOTO: Mark S. Howard)

As Chutes&Ladders, recalling to Haikumom (Marela Lopez-Ponce) what it was like to almost drown and to get a second chance. (PHOTO: Mark S. Howard)

With Orangutan (Theresa Nguyen), debating whether he should call his son to reconnect. (PHOTO: Mark S. Howard)

With Orangutan (Theresa Nguyen), debating whether he should call his son to reconnect. (PHOTO: Mark S. Howard)

With the entire online support group: Orangutan (Theresa Nguyen) Fountainhead (Gabriel Kuttner) and Haikumom (Mariela Lopez-Ponce). (PHOTO: Mark S. Howard) 

In shadow, contemplating whether or not to use his water wings as Haikumom (Mariela Lopez-Ponce) breaks down and Elliot (Gabriel Rodriguez) and Yazmin (Sasha Controverde) mourn their Aunt Ginny. (PHOTO: Mark S. Howard)

Critical Response

“I have seen Johnny Lee Davenport give a wide variety of interesting performances on Boston stages and his interpretation here of Chutes&Ladders is quite good and compelling. He and Theresa Nguyen, who plays the Japanese-American girl, Orangutan, is very sweet and provides some of the most stimulating drama of the show.”
—BADMan (Charles Munitz), Boston Arts Diary (October 20, 2013)

“The actors playing the characters are all quite wonderful. Each performs a distinct personality without being a caricature. There is a likability to them. Standout performances were by Johnny Lee Davenport (Chutes&Ladders), Gabriel Rodriguez (Elliot Ortiz), Mariela Lopez­Ponce (Odessa and Haikumom) and Theresa Nguyen (Orangutan). Their various pain and limited joy were penetrating and often poignantly portrayed.”
Mark Favermann, Berkshire Fine Arts (October 21, 2013)

“The current Lyric Stage production of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama, Water by the Spoonful, by Quiara Alegria Hudes (Tony winner for In the Heights in 2008) presents us with playwriting at its most profound and live theater performance at its most moving. The underlying dissonance these people endure is effectively, even unforgettably driven home by every member of this stellar cast . . . under the meticulous direction of Scott Edmiston.”
Jack Craib, South Shore Critic (October 21, 2103)

“As Chutes&Ladders, a middle­aged IRS bureaucrat itching to break free from the psychological prison he’s built for himself, the reliably excellent Johnny Lee Davenport skillfully conveys a mixture of tentativeness and yearning.”
Don Aucoin, Boston Globe (October 22, 2013)

“. . . it’s the glimpses of Johnny Lee Davenport as the comfortably numb Chutes&Ladders that lend this play its emotional heart. And when he interacts with the fiery Theresa Nguyen as the tough but scared Orangutan, it’s hard not to feel like something truly special is happening onstage. Their final scene together is an understated moment that could move even the most cynical theatergoer to tears.”
Helen Schultz, Emertainment Monthly (October 22, 2013)

“Director Scott Edmiston cuts to the emotional core, as he always does, in the sparely-designed Water by the Spoonful at the Lyric. Shawn LaCount, the creative head of Company One, brings out a more physical intensity in Splendor, and both have assembled white, black, Asian and Latino/a actors who could be rising stars locally. (Some, like Johnny Lee Davenport at the Lyric, already are.) . . . [Water by the Spoonful] feels like 21st century America trying to find connectedness among each other, despite all the barriers and tragedies in their way. Edmiston and the cast certainly find it in their chemistry. . . most of it is genuinely moving . . . by the end the play’s a winner.”
Ed Siegel, The ARTery for WBUR (October 23, 2013)

Johnny Lee Davenport even makes an IRS agent with no outside life charming. Theresa Nguyen as the addict who wants to find her roots has a lovely, redemptive relationship with Davenport, and Gabriel Kuttner adds humor as the crack addict who won’t admit the scope of his dependency.”
Beverly Creasey, Boston Arts Review (October 25, 2013)

“Orangutan, played with almost contagious energy and huge eyes by Lyric newcomer Theresa Nguyen, is not related to the 50-something Chutes&Ladders (Johnny Lee Davenport, a marvel, as always, here showing us what it really means to be bottled up). But their banter through the online ether feels family-like, and so do the wounds they inflict when they call each other out for addictive behavior. In one of the play’s most heart-wrenching scenes, they meet face to face for the first time, and what happens will have you wondering where you put that packet of tissues.
sssssThere is much here that is raw to the touch. Addiction is not sugar-coated. When Orangutan calls Chutes&Ladders a coward; when Elliot confronts a ghost from his past and turns frantically to pills for escape; when Chutes&Ladders hangs up on his son out of fear of being rejected again, those are flinch-worthy moments.”
Alicia Blaisdell-Bannon, Cape Cod Times (October 25, 2013)

Johnny Lee Davenport smartly balances Chutes&Ladders’ IRS façade of confidence and his uncertainties as a father.”
Jules Becker, New England Entertainment Digest (October 26, 2013)

“The Lyric Stage Company production is sensitively directed by Scott Edmiston, getting star quality performances from an ensemble cast of equals. . . . The actors playing the denizens of the chat room meet the challenge of conveying their personalities mostly by facial expressions and tone of voice, as they spend most of their time seated under spotlights, as if in front of a monitor. Although they expand their territories somewhat in the second act, most of the exposition is done before that and Davenport, Nguyen and Kuttner have shown us who they are in their online conversations.”
Nancy Grossman, Talkin’ Broadway Regional (October 27, 2013)

“The emotional anchor of the play is Johnny Lee Davenport (Chutes&Ladders), who creates a character who tries so desperately to fade into the fabric of life but must learn to take chances once again.”
Craig Idlebrook, The New England Theatre Geek (October 28, 2013)

“The warm heart of the production is Johnny Lee Davenport, who shows us the end result of a life and family thrown away. He’s touching, he’s funny, and his Chutes&Ladders is fully present, in a way that the other characters, whether ‘real’ or disembodied, rarely manage to be.”
Sandy MacDonald, Theatremania (October 29, 2013)

Johnny Lee Davenport as Chutes&Ladders anchors the production though his unforced transformation when he takes a life­renewing journey to meet Orangutan.”
Iris Fanger, The Arts Fuse (November 1, 2013)

Davenport plays his character with a range of emotion and body language is sometimes humorous and sometimes tragic.”
Rosie Rosenweig, Boston Performing Arts Examiner (November 4, 2013)

“The ever dependable Johnny Lee Davenport is also quite endearing, exuding a quiet dignity as Chutes&Ladders as he painstakingly tries to balance his deep, deep longing for human connection with an almost crippling fear of venturing outside his carefully controlled comfort zone.”
Jan Narji, BroadwayWorldBoston (November 5, 2013)

Johnny Lee Davenport is Chutes&Ladders, the online name of a recovering drug addict. Mr. Davenport’s speaking and singing voice reminded me of both Paul Robeson and James Earl Jones. The strength of his vocal powers makes the vulnerability and neediness of the character that much more poignant.”
Al Chase, The White Rhino Report (November 5, 2013)

Johnny Lee Davenport finely embodies the frustration of Chutes&Ladders, a man whose family has disowned him.”
Nick Dussault, Metro (November 5, 2013)

“Chutes&Ladders’ progress and his finally meeting with Orangutan is one of the more satisfying developments in the play.”
David Brooks Andrews, The MetroWest Daily News (November 8, 2013)

“At its best, we can’t distinguish between what’s more powerful, the virtual or the real world, as both worlds tug at the characters. Fountainhead (Gabriel Kutner) is a businessman whose crack habit cost him a job and perhaps a marriage. Orangutan (Theresa Nguyen) is a young Japanese American searching for a mother in Japan who gave her away to an orphanage. Chutes&Ladders (Johnny Lee Davenport) is a fiftyish IRS bureaucrat trying to break out of self-imposed isolation and guilt at losing his family when he got addicted to crack. You feel them.”
Paul Tamburello, PT at Large (November 15, 2013)

“To call this production anything short of dazzling is to understate its success. . . .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 theses characters. Davenport knows when to show his hand, as it were, and his emotional resonance is strong when he shows that man’s true colors in his scenes with Orangutan (played with exuberance by Theresa Nguyen.”
Brian Balduzzi, My Entertainment World: Theatre (November 17, 2013)


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