52 Plays in 52 Weeks: Week 17

Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes

The holidays are a great time to waste hours searching for all things drama related. A time to surf and unlock material one would not normally have time to find during the term.

I decided to look for more plays to read for my on again, off again 52 Plays challenge. In so doing I came across one of my favourite blogs 365plays.wordpress.com and The Pulitzer Prize website.

All I know about The Pulitzer Prize is that it is a very prestigious award. I’ve had the privilege of seeing some of this award winning work both here and in New York. Winners such as Next to Normal, August: Osage County, Rabbit Hole, Doubt, In the Next Room or the vibrator play and RENT. So I thought I would take a look at some of the recent recipients.

I chose Hudes’s Water by the Spoonful purely on whim. I think the thing that drew me to it was the fact that it was set in Philadelphia. I love that city. They talk about the “Philly’s” and “hoagies” which are two of my loves from that city.

Water by the Spoonful is the second in a projected trilogy, revolving around a Puerto Rican-American ex-Marine, Elliot, who is dealing with the traumas of a brief tour in Iraq.

In the current play, the first focusing on Elliot’s time on duty, his war wounds are merely background, and a framing device for the play. In the first scene, Elliot asks a college professor to translate an Arabic phrase for him. Why, or what the significance of the apparently innocent phrase is does not become clear until much later, and then only partially. The mystery hovers intriguingly over the play, propelling a narrative that blossoms into something more fragrant and enriching.

Half of the play’s scenes involve Elliot, who is working at a Subway sandwich shop in Philadelphia and facing, along with his divorced cousin Yaz, the sudden death of the aunt who raised him. In the other half, we follow a group of seemingly unrelated characters, who exchange messages in an online chat room for recovering crack addicts. There’s a link between the two that is revealed halfway through the play. In a thematic sense, they are all part of the same story: the search for human connection in a harsh and destabilising world.

What I liked about this play was how skillfully Hudes reveals the connection between the seemingly separate story lines. It propelled me to want to keep reading and helped to heighten the dramatic tension.

It is very American, very Puerto Rican-American at that which may be difficult for many of us in Australia to fully understand. In saying that though, the fundamental spine of the piece is universal and could be translated skillfully to any culture.

What other famous play writing prizes do you know? Share them in the comments.

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