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 (2011) is an American play by Quiara Alegría Hudes and the second part of the Elliot Trilogy. This play is set seven years after the first section of the trilogy, Elliot A Soldier's Fugue.[1] Featuring veteran Elliott Ortiz, the play is set in both the virtual and physical worlds of Philadelphia, United States; Japan, and Puerto Rico.

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


Water by the Spoonful is the second part of Hudes's trilogy that began with Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue. The third part, The Happiest Song Plays Last, was planned to open in 2013 in Chicago.[3]

The first part of the trilogy explored "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 wounded veteran, has returned to his home in Philadelphia. Ginny, his ailing adoptive mother, dies soon after the play opens. 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 aNarcotics Anonymous support chat room that she moderates.



Set seven years after Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue, the play features veteran Elliot Ortiz, who was wounded and has returned to his home town of Philadelphia. He works at a sandwich shop and cares for his ailing aunt Ginny, who raised him. He is coping with recurring bouts of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), characterized by visions of an apparition, a man who continually offers a hand and repeats an Arabic phrase. Elliot's cousin Yazmin, a Swarthmore College music professor in the middle of a divorce, introduces him to Professor Aman, from Swarthmore's Arabic Studies department. Elliot wants to decipher the phrase the ghost repeats, but does not want to share its origin. Aman says that he will translate the phrase if Elliot agrees to contact a filmmaker friend of his who is making a documentary about the Iraq War. When Elliot accepts, Aman reveals that the phrase means, "Can I please have my passport back?".

Odessa is Elliot's birth mother and Ginny's sister. She had given up her son because of her crack addiction. In recovery, she uses the alias Haikumom to moderate an anonymous online message board for recovering addicts. These include Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders. Haikumom and Chutes&Ladders Orangutan, who has not logged into the site for three months. But she says that she is 90 days sober and has moved to Japan to meet her birth parents.

Fountainhead, a wealthy Philadelphian and addict-in-denial, soon sows discord on the message board. Odessa wants to welcome him, but Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders doubt his intentions, especially when he seeks help to avoid telling his wife about his addiction. Orangutan encourages Chutes&Ladders to visit her in Japan, but he refuses. He fears that the awkwardness of the meeting and the break from the routine he has built for himself might threaten his 10-year sobriety.

When Ginny dies, Elliot and Yazmin have limited funds to pay for her funeral. They seek money from the rest of the family. Odessa meets Fountainhead at a café to discuss rehab and treatment options. Yazmin and Elliot arrive and confront Odessa for her failure to contribute to her sister's funeral. Elliott reveals to Fountainhead that Odessa had a daughter who died of dehydration from the flu at the age of two. He blames Odessa, claiming that she was too busy getting high on crack to give his sister the "water by the spoonful" she needed to survive. Shamed, Odessa gives Elliot permission to pawn her personal computer for Ginny's funeral expenses. He and Yazmin go to Odessa's apartment to retrieve it. Elliot logs in and poses as her on the message board, where he insults Orangutan. Yazmin grabs the keyboard to explain it is Haikumom's son using the computer. Orangutan tells them that Haikumom has always spoken very highly of Elliot on the site. She had regretted her absence from his life due to her addiction.

Orangutan posts that she plans to visit her birth parents' address, but Chutes&Ladders attempts to dissuade her. He suggests that emotion might make her want to use again. Orangutan says that she prefers uncertainty about the future to Chutes&Ladders' strict routine, and leaves for the train to Kushiro, where her birth parents supposedly reside. That night Odessa relapses and the hospital calls Fountainhead, whom she listed as an emergency contact. In the morning, Orangutan reveals that she did not take the train to her birth parents. Chutes&Ladders says that he has decided to face his fears and has bought a ticket to Japan. Fountainhead enters the chat with the news about Odessa, and Chutes&Ladders convinces him that he has a duty to care for her. Fountainhead agrees and calls his wife, giving her the credentials to his profile on the message board, so that she can find out about his addiction struggles.

Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders meet in person in Japan. Yazmin and Elliot travel to Puerto Rico where they scatter Ginny's ashes. Yazmin plans to purchase Ginny's house there and to start a family. Elliot vows to pursue his acting dream in Los Angeles.


Critical response

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


  1. ^ Lunden, Jeff (January 8, 2013). "A Vet's Haunted Homecoming In 'Water By The Spoonful'". Morning Edition. NPR. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  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 30, 2021.
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  11. ^ "Water by the Spoonful 2014- Shows on O!". Retrieved November 30, 2021.
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  15. ^ "Water by the Spoonful:2019-2020". Retrieved November 30, 2021.
  16. ^ "Review: Water by the Spoonful". Retrieved November 30, 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 30, 2021.
  19. ^ Jones, Chris (March 17, 2014). "Honest writing keeps addiction drama afloat". Retrieved November 30, 2021.
  20. ^ Marks, Peter (March 10, 2014). "'Water by the Spoonful' dispenses measured fury". Retrieved November 30, 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.