Water by the Spoonful

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Water by the Spoonful
Written byQuiara Alegría Hudes
CharactersElliot Ortiz
Yazmin Ortiz
Odessa Ortiz
Chutes & Ladders
A Ghost
Date premieredOctober 20, 2011
Place premieredHartford Stage
Hartford, Connecticut
Original languageEnglish
SeriesElliot Trilogy

Water by the Spoonful is a play by Quiara Alegría Hudes. It won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.[1]


The play, which was commissioned by Hartford Stage as part of Hudes' 2008-2009 Aetna New Voices Fellowship, debuted at Hartford Stage in October 2011.[2]

The play premiered off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre on December 11, 2012 (previews), and ran to February 10, 2013.[3] Directed by Davis McCallum (who also directed the Hartford Stage production), the cast featured Armando Riesco, Liza Colon-Zayas and Zabryna Guevara. [4]


  • Elliot Ortiz: A twenty-four-year-old Puerto Rican aspiring model and Iraq War vet with a limp. The biological son of Odessa and adopted son of Ginny, he is plagued by hallucinations from his violent past.
  • Yazmin Ortiz: Elliot’s twenty-nine-year-old cousin, niece to Odessa and adjunct professor at Swarthmore College.
  • Odessa Ortiz: Elliot’s birth mother, thirty-nine, who goes by the alias Haikumom on her Narcotics Anonymous site. Lives in poverty and works as a janitor.
  • Fountainhead: Real name John, a white Philadelphia Main Line resident, aged forty-one. Married with children.
  • Chutes & Ladders: Also known as Clayton “Buddy” Wilkie, a fifty-six-year-old African-American IRS employee in San Diego. Develops a close bond with Orangutan.
  • Orangutan: Born Yoshiko Saki, now known in real life as Madeleine Mays. Adopted from Japan by white parents as a baby, she has now returned to discover her identity.
  • A Ghost: A manifestation of Elliot’s first kill, repeats the line “Can I have my passport back?” in Arabic. Also plays a Japanese policeman and Yazmin’s colleague at Swarthmore College, Arabic Studies Professor Aman.


It is the second part of a trilogy that began with Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue and concludes with The Happiest Song Plays Last.[5] The first part of the trilogy is "about a young Marine, Elliot Ortiz, coming to terms with his time in Iraq and his father’s and grandfather’s service in Vietnam and Korea".[6] Water by the Spoonful takes place several years after, Elliot, a veteran, has returned to his home in Philadelphia after being wounded while serving in Iraq. The play depicts the aftermath of the death of Ginny, Elliot’s adoptive mother. As Elliot and his cousin Yaz attempt to process their loss, Ginny’s sister Odessa, Elliot’s biological mother, bonds with other recovering addicts on the Narcotics Anonymous support chat room she moderates.


A sequel to Hudes’ previous play Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue, Water by the Spoonful picks up seven years after the events of its predecessor. War-wounded Elliot Ortiz has returned to his home town of Philadelphia, where, between coping through recurring bouts of posttraumatic stress disorder and interactions with a mysterious Arabic-speaking ghost, he now works at a local Subway sandwich shop. Whilst his “mother” Ginny nears death, Elliot’s cousin Yazmin, a Swarthmore College music professor undergoing a divorce, urges him to work with a documentary filmmaker who wants his help making a movie about the Iraq War. Meanwhile, Elliot’s birth mother, and Ginny’s sister, Odessa, a recovered heroin addict, runs and moderates an anonymous online message board for recovering addicts like Orangutan and Chutes & Ladders under the alias Haikumom. The safeness of the space is compromised when a wealthy fellow Philadelphia native and addict-in-denial Fountainhead sows discord in the chat; Odessa wants to welcome him, but Orangutan and Chutes & Ladders doubt his intentions.

Ginny passes away, leaving Yazmin and Elliot with limited funds to organize her funeral and eulogize her. They confront Odessa, who is meeting with Fountainhead at a café, for her failure to financially contribute, and Elliot explodes at her, revealing to Fountainhead that his flu-stricken younger sister died from dehydration after a using Odessa neglected to give her water by the spoonful. Shamed, Odessa gives Elliot permission to sell her computer for funeral money, which he does, but not before posing as her on the message board and insulting Orangutan and Chutes & Ladders. Odessa relapses, leaving Fountainhead to nurture her as Orangutan and Chutes & Ladders finally meet in Japan. Yazmin and Elliot scatter Ginny’s ashes in Puerto Rico, and Elliot vows to leave Philadelphia.

Critical response[edit]

Pulitzer.org describes the play as "...an imaginative play about the search for meaning by a returning Iraq War veteran working in a sandwich shop in his hometown of Philadelphia."[1] The Boston Globe describes it as a story of "...an Iraq war veteran struggling to find his place in the world..."[5] David Ng of The Los Angeles Times says the play "follows an Iraq war veteran who is struggling with civilian life. His story runs in parallel with those of four individuals who connect on an online chatroom dedicated to recovering drug addicts."[7] Erik Piepenburg of The New York Times describes the subject of the play as "..a Puerto Rican veteran of the Iraq war who faces personal demons when he returns to the United States".[6]

The play was published in 2012 by Theatre Communications Group.[8] Hudes had previously won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical for In the Heights.[9]


  1. ^ a b "The 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Drama". Pulitzer.org. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  2. ^ "Water by the Spoonful Wins Pulitzer Prize for Drama". Hartford Stage. Archived from the original on May 20, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  3. ^ "Water By The Spoonful". Lortel.org. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
  4. ^ Jones, Kenneth and Hetrick, Adam. "Quiara Alegría Hudes' Pulitzer Prize-Winning 'Water by the Spoonful' Gets Two Extra Weeks Off-Broadway" playbill.com, January 10, 2013
  5. ^ a b "'Water by the Spoonful' to land in New York". The Boston Globe. May 16, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Piepenburg, Erik (May 16, 2012). "Pulitzer Prize-Winning Play to Make New York Debut at Second Stage". The New York Times. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  7. ^ Ng, David (April 16, 2012). "Quiara Alegria Hudes' 'Water by the Spoonful' wins drama Pulitzer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  8. ^ Water By the Spoonful tcg.org, accessed May 5, 2015
  9. ^ Gans, Andrew (April 16, 2012). "Water By the Spoonful Wins 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama". Playbill. Archived from the original on May 27, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2012.

External links[edit]