The trick to “Water by the Spoonful” — the Pulitzer-winning second play in a trilogy by Quiara Alegria Hudes — is that there isn’t one major climax; instead, there’s a rivulet of small reveals that pool together into one poignant portrait of a struggling Puerto Rican family in modern-day Philadelphia. The play starts with a death, but it’s the ensuing ripples that spread out across the surviving characters and ultimately affect how they act toward one another.
Elliot (Armando Riesco) is a wounded Iraq veteran coping with his return to civilian life and the ghosts of his past, including addiction and the loss of family members. His cousin Yasmin (Zabryna Guevara) is also searching for her own way to acclimate into her own city and family. Concurrently, the founder of a website for recovering crack users (username: Haikumom, played with dignity by Liza Colon-Zayas) chats with addicts across the globe; her social network often seems even more like a family than the one Elliot and Yasmin share by blood.
But the watershed moment occurs in the second act, when Elliot finally confronts Haikumom and reveals how they’re connected. Viewers have gotten used to seeing Haikumom as who she’s chosen to become — but the resentment of her kin, let alone details from her past that leak out, merge to reveal a more honest reflection of who she was and what she’s capable of being. It’s these tiny facets streaming together throughout the play, with their individual focus and collective weight, that are the true essence of “Spoonful.” The design and some directional choices can be nitpicked, but the product is an impeccable accomplishment.
If you go
‘Water by the Spoonful’
Through Jan. 27
Second Stage Theatre,
305 W. 43rd St.