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 as the second part of the Elliot Trilogy. This play is released five years after the first section of the trilogy, Elliot A Soldier's Fugue, comes out.[1] The story is set in both the virtual and physical world in Philadelphia, Japan, and Puerto Rico.

The play won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.[2]


Water by the Spoonful is the second part of a trilogy that began with Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue and concludes with The Happiest Song Plays Last.[3] 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".[4] 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.


  • 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 (who does not appear in the play), 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.
  • Chutes&Ladders: A recovering addict on Haikumom's site. 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: A recovering addict on Haikumom's site. Born Yoshiko Sakai, now known in real life as Madeleine Mays. Adopted from Japan by white parents as a baby, she has now returned to Japan in her twenties to discover her identity.
  • Fountainhead: An addict on Haikumom's site. Real name John, a white Philadelphia Main Line resident, aged forty-one. Married with children.
  • A Ghost: A manifestation of Elliot's first kill, repeats the line “Can I please have my passport back?” in Arabic. Also plays a Japanese policeman and Yazmin's colleague at Swarthmore College, Arabic Studies Professor Aman.


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 he now works at a local Subway sandwich shop and cares for his ailing aunt Ginny, who raised him as a child. He is also coping through recurring bouts of posttraumatic stress disorder characterized by visions of a ghost of a man who continually offers a hand and repeats an Arabic phrase. The play opens with Elliot's cousin Yazmin, a Swarthmore College music professor in the middle of a divorce, introducing him to an acquaintance of hers in Swarthmore's Arabic Studies department, Professor Aman. Elliot hopes to decipher the phrase the ghost repeats, but Aman, intrigued by Elliot's refusal to explain the phrase's origin, offers an exchange: he will translate the phrase if Elliot agrees to contact a documentary filmmaker friend of his who is looking to create a movie about the Iraq War. When Elliot accepts, Aman reveals that the phrase translates to "Can I please have my passport back?"

Meanwhile, Odessa, who is Elliot's birth mother and Ginny's sister as well as a recovering crack addict, runs and moderates an anonymous online message board for recovering addicts like Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders under the alias Haikumom. Orangutan, who has worried Haikumom and Chutes&Ladders by not logging into the site for three months, has returned to announce that she is ninety days sober and has moved to Japan, to their great relief. The safeness of the space is compromised when a wealthy fellow Philadelphia native and addict-in-denial Fountainhead arrives and sows discord in the chat. Odessa wants to welcome him, but Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders doubt his intentions, especially when he pleads for a solution to his addiction that does not involve telling his wife. Orangutan also encourages Chutes&Ladders to visit her in Japan, but he refuses, believing that the awkwardness of the meeting and the break from the routine he has built for himself might threaten his ten-year sobriety.

Elliot's aunt Ginny passes away, leaving him and Yazmin with limited funds to organize her funeral. As they struggle to gather money from the family, Odessa meets Fountainhead in person at a café to discuss rehab and treatment options. Yazmin and Elliot arrive at the café and confront Odessa for her failure to contribute financially, but she merely gives curt excuses for why she has no money to offer. Elliot, enraged by her disloyalty to him and Ginny, reveals to Fountainhead that while he is Odessa's only living child, she also had a daughter, who died of dehydration from the flu when she was two years old. He openly blames Odessa for her death, claiming that she was too busy getting high on crack to give his sister the "water by the spoonful" she needed to survive the illness. Shamed and unable to deny the story, Odessa gives Elliot permission to pawn her computer for Ginny's funeral expenses. He and Yazmin go to Odessa's apartment to retrieve it, and Elliot logs in and poses as her on the message board, cruelly insulting Orangutan. When Yazmin grabs the keyboard to apologize and explains that it is not Haikumom using the computer, but her son, Orangutan surprises them by revealing that Odessa has always spoken very highly of Elliot on the site, despite her lack of presence in his life due to her addiction.

On the message board, Orangutan announces that she plans to visit her birth parents' address, but Chutes&Ladders vehemently attempts to dissuade her, telling her that no good can come of it and the emotion of the visit might make her want to use again. Orangutan disagrees, arguing that she prefers uncertainty about the future to Chutes&Ladders's strict routine, and leaves to board a train to her birth parents' hometown. Overnight, Odessa relapses and overdoses, and the hospital calls Fountainhead, whom she listed as an emergency contact for reasons he cannot fathom. In the morning, Orangutan logs back on and reveals that she did not actually board the train, but Chutes&Ladders responds by saying that he has decided to face his fears and has bought a flight to Japan to visit her. Fountainhead then enters the chat with the news about Odessa, and Chutes&Ladders convinces him that it is now his duty to take care of her. Fountainhead agrees and calls his wife, telling her where to find the message board so she can read and understand what he has been facing.

As Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders finally meet in person in Japan, Yazmin and Elliot scatter Ginny's ashes in Puerto Rico. Yazmin plans to purchase Ginny's house to start her family there and Elliot vows to leave Philadelphia to pursue his acting dream in Los Angeles.


  • 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.[5]
  • Second Stage Theatre on January 27th, 2013 hosted a Hudes Elliot Trilogy, where Water by the Spoonful was done in full production and directed by David McCallum.[8]
  • The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2014 began an online streaming service for Water by the Spoonful, running September 1st through the 25th. This production was directed by Shishir Kurup. The cast featured Daniel Molina, Vilma Silva, and Nancy Rodriguez.[11]
  • In 2015, Theatre Twenty-Two in Seattle put on this production directed by Julie Beckman from October 23rd to November 14th.[12]
  • In 2016, the Curious Theatre Company put on this production directed by Chip Walton from September 3rd to October 15th. The cast included Thony Mena, GerRee Hinshaw and Gabriella Cavellero.[13]
  • Teatro Paraguas, Ironweed Productions, and Santa Fe Playhouse in 2019 put on the Elliot Trilogy, including Water by the Spoonful, directed by Valli Marie Rivera.[16]

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."[2] The Boston Globe describes it as a story of "...an Iraq war veteran struggling to find his place in the world..."[3]
  • 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."[17]
  • 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".[4]
  • Charles McNulty, a theater critic with the LA Times, describes the play, “Water by the Spoonful,” Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Pulitzer Prize winner, is a family drama that redefines what family means for those struggling not to fall through the cracks of an increasingly fractured society.[18]
  • Chris Jones (drama critic), the chief theatre critic for the Chicago Tribune, says, “This play somehow drives to a quieter yet deeper depth, offering the wholly fulfilling sense that everyone on the stage is, by their creator, known.”[19]
  • Peter Marks, a theatre critic with the Washington Post, said when describing the play, “It's a sensitively wrought piece, with an ambitious range of concerns and some interesting observations about the families we're born into and the ones we create in a modern age, in therapeutic situations, and even online.”[20]

The play was published in 2012 by Theatre Communications Group.[21] Hudes had previously won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical for In the Heights.[22]


  1. ^ "A Vet's Haunted Homecoming In 'Water By The Spoonful'".
  2. ^ a b "The 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Drama". Pulitzer.org. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "'Water by the Spoonful' to land in New York". The Boston Globe. May 16, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Water by the Spoonful Wins Pulitzer Prize for Drama". Hartford Stage. Archived from the original on May 20, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  6. ^ "Water By The Spoonful". Lortel.org. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ "Water By the Spoonful: A Dramaturgical Dossier". Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  9. ^ "Water by the Spoonful". Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  10. ^ "Water by the Spoonful". Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  11. ^ "Water by the Spoonful 2014- Shows on O!". Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  12. ^ "Water by the Spoonful". Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  13. ^ "Water by the Spoonful". Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  14. ^ "Water by the Spoonful". Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  15. ^ "Water by the Spoonful:2019-2020". Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  16. ^ "Review: Water by the Spoonful". Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  17. ^ Ng, David (April 16, 2012). "Quiara Alegria Hudes' 'Water by the Spoonful' wins drama Pulitzer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  18. ^ McNulty, Charles (February 12, 2018). "Review: 'Water by the Spoonful' at the Taper: Broken souls, and a cast, in search of connection". Retrieved November 28, 2021.
  19. ^ Jones, Chris (March 17, 2014). "Honest writing keeps addiction drama afloat". Retrieved November 28, 2021.
  20. ^ Marks, Peter (March 10, 2014). "'Water by the Spoonful' dispenses measured fury". Retrieved November 28, 2021.
  21. ^ Water By the Spoonful tcg.org, accessed May 5, 2015
  22. ^ 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.

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