Water by the Spoonful
Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Water by the Spoonful tells the story of Iraq war veteran Elliot Ortiz as he struggles to find his place in the world, while being haunted by the ghosts of his past. Upon the death of a family member, Elliot finds his world colliding with the world of his birth mother as she moderates an online chat room for recovering addicts like herself. As families splinter and collide online and face-to-face, Quiara Alegría Hudes masterfully draws patterns of genuine warmth, forgiveness, and redemption.
Water by the Spoonful is presented in special arrangement with Dramatist's Play Service, Inc., New York.
|Assistant Director||Maritza Pineda|
|Dialect Coach||Careena Melia|
|Scenic Designer||Taesup Lee|
|Costume Designer||Jess Fialko|
|Assistant Costume Designer||Emma Zhang*|
|Lighting/Video Designer||Peggy Mead-Finizio|
|Assistant Lighting/Video Designer||Lucas Ingram|
|Sound Designer||Bri Atwood*|
|Stage Manager||Melissa L.F. Turner|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Rachel E. Winfield|
|Elliot Ortiz||Christopher Rangel|
|Yazmin Ortiz||Valeria Avina|
|Haikumom, a.k.a. Odessa Ortiz||Regina Morones|
|Fountainhead, a.k.a. John||Kevin Argus|
|Chutes & Ladders, a.k.a. Clayton Buddy Wilkes||Morris Hill|
|Orangutan, a.k.a. Madeleine Mays||Kristin Ho*|
|Ghost/Professor Aman/Policeman||Jordan Corpman*|
|*denotes undergraduate student|
Water by the Spoonful: Conversations and Connections
By Madison Colquette, Dramaturg
Water by the Spoonful is the second play in Hudes’ Elliot trilogy, based on her own cousin Elliot’s journey as a Marine in Iraq. I was able to dialogue with both the playwright and director, Tlaloc Rivas, about the captivating stories in Water by the Spoonful.
Madison Colquette: Tlaloc, what interested you about this play? What was the initial spark and why did you feel that the Department of Theatre Arts needed to do this play now?
Tlaloc Rivas: I am an unabashed fan of Quiara Alegría Hudes. She writes the kind of plays I want to direct. Tender. Passionate. Fierce. Humorous. Her plays take on her themes and subjects with such detail and deftness that we are thoroughly entertained even as she pricks our conscience.
I chose Water by the Spoonful to direct for a number of reasons. First, it is a play that gives its audiences a complete, complex emotional experience, as well as being entertaining. Water by the Spoonful is both epic and intimate – a huge challenge for the actors in our theatre program, for me, and for our creative team of designers.
MC: What is Elliot’s struggle with returning home after so many years? What is the adjustment that has to happen, and I imagine, continues to happen to put your life back together after being at war? Does he struggle with his identity as a community member? As a Puerto Rican-American?
Quiara Alegría Hudes: Water by the Spoonful is a coming of age story and is inherently about [Elliot’s] identity. What kind of man will Elliot choose to become? What parts of the life he has been handed and the life he has chosen will he take with him into adulthood? And does he have the strength, the resolve, the ability to even make such things a choice, or is his future self already determined by his experiences in combat and by the things he cannot “unsee.”
TR: There’s never a timetable for recovering from trauma. Everybody handles it differently. Of course there are some who can move forward step-by-step and recover some stability, normalcy, and support in their lives, but it remains a difficult road. For others, it is buried deep and locked away for no one else to access. Elliot, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is caught in a kind of stillness after coming home; he is bruised in so many different ways, being pulled apart in different directions.
As Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland, Elliot and his cousin Yaz struggle with the responsibility of maintaining familial and cultural bonds that have been crippled by drugs, poverty, and lack of security within their own communities. Philadelphia, like many U.S. cities, remains deeply segregated by ethnicity and class. How can a person maintain a sense of self-worth when you’re barely getting by each day?
MC: Quiara, are the characters Haikumom, Orangutan, and Chutes & Ladders creating an alternate home in this online world? Does existing in the online world make connection easier for these characters? And does it hinder their abilities to connect with others in “real life?”
QAH: Some conversations are easier to have when not looking people in the eye. One of the beautiful things about the internet is that it doesn’t limit our notion of community to be geographic. Geographic communities are obviously central to our life, but of course where one is born, or where one can afford to live creates personal limitations. The internet is a place where like-minded people can connect, with very few resources, and also with some element of privacy. This allows for a connection that can be very deep. Our news likes to cover press stories about all the damage that online anonymity creates, but the flip side is of course that there are great benefits to connecting, and in the case of this play, such connections can even turn lives around.
MC: The use of Jazz is intrinsic to the play, an essential undertone to the story. How does the dissonance of Jazz music correlate to the dissonance we experience in relationships?
QAH: Perhaps because of my musical background, perhaps because of something more intrinsic to me, I have always seen things in contrast. Dissonance and resolution is an example of this. Too much harmony, there is no challenge; there is no grit or fire in the belly. Too much dissonance, and it’s as though we’re depriving ourselves of the fundamental joy of music. For complicated relationships one need look no further than their relationship with self. On the chat room, people find solace by connecting with others who continue to struggle with inner contradiction, with inner difference. They relate to each other for this struggle, it’s what binds them. Dissonance and resolution are always at odds, within.
TR: Although I am not a scholar of music, I know that dissonance has played an important role in the evolution of jazz. The music of John Coltrane and his experimentation led to a new way of expressing and reflecting the dissonance occurring in American society. Quiara is a composer as well as a playwright, and she knows this principle of dissonance well. Quiara has stated that this play was inspired by Coltrane’s music. The way his music moves is reflected in how these characters engage with one another.
Dissonance extends into our personal relationships. We all hit some rough patches and experience some imperfect harmony in our relationships, as hard as we try to reach stability and order. Perpetual chaos is unsustainable. But relationships, like music, dance, and theatre, must embrace the contradictions of human condition in order to convey the truth. Like a little salt in a sweet dish, we hope the contrast and dissonance in our production will increase the power of the whole.