Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Water by the Spoonful

Play #8: Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes

This one won a Pulitzer Prize, so I figured I should probably get it read. And now, I'm wishing I had thought to read the first in the trilogy... you know... first. I suppose I'll just hit up Elliot, A Solider's Fugue tomorrow. At any rate, this is a gorgeous play. The story centers follows Elliot, who returned from serving in Iraq a few years ago. His aunt Ginny who raised him is on the verge of dying of cancer, and his birth mother Odessa who abandoned him as a child is a recovering drug addict with six years of sobriety behind her. Elliot and his cousin Yazmin spend most of the play dealing with the implications of Ginny's death. Odessa, on the other hand, spends most of the play online, talking to other addicts in an online support group that she moderates. Elliot's anger with his birth mother grows and grows as we learn that they have more in common than we might have thought. And the participants in the online forum are very interesting - deep relationships with people who know their deepest, darkest secrets... but they don't even know their real names. They address each other as Orangutan or Chutes&Ladders or Fountainhead. But as time goes on for them, the online world isn't enough, and they require something more as well. It's a meditation on loss and family and support and weakness and personal failings and the knowledge that personal failings are simply the cost of being human.

The title comes from a horrifying story from Elliot's childhood when he and his two-year-old sister had the flu and were unable to keep anything down, so Odessa was instructed to feed them a spoonful of water every five minutes to keep them hydrated. Unfortunately, addict that she was, she was unable to keep up this arrangement to dire consequences. It was after this that Elliot was sent to his aunt Ginny, whom he refers to as his mother. It's a positively shattering metaphor for the tiny gestures and decisions that add up to a life. The tiny steps that can mean love and survival and success, or destruction and loss and failure.

Hudes gives an interesting set of directions in suggesting how to stage this play, calling for many different chairs to represent the "real" places, and open space to represent the online interactions. I would love to see this piece staged - I would love to see which of those worlds ends up feeling more real at which moments in the performance.

I really can't wait to read the other two pieces that frame this play in Hudes's trilogy.

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