Quiara Alegría Hudes was as surprised as anybody when her play Water by the Spoonful came out of nowhere to win the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. She knew it had been sent to the Pulitzer committee, but didn't expect anything to come of the submission. At the time of the announcement, in fact, her cell phone was switched off.
"I was teaching at Wesleyan University last semester," she recalled. "It was a three-hour-long class. We took a break and I checked my phone. I had hundreds of messages. Everyone else found out about the Pulitzer before I did." Five or ten messages, she said, might have caused her to worry that something terrible had occurred. Seeing dozens upon dozens, however, she "started to think something good had happened. It took me a few days to listen to them all."
No stranger to the Pulitzers at the time, Hudes' play Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue had been a 2007 finalist, as was the musical In the Heights in 2008, for which she wrote the book. Still, Water by the Spoonful, which premiered at Hartford Stage in 2011, was the darkest of dark horses. "It hadn't been reviewed in the New York Times," she said. "It was a very low-profile production. It was very off the radar."
The work is getting its second production — and its New York premiere — at Second Stage Theatre. The cast features a few of the actors seen in the Hartford production, including Armando Riesco, Liza Colón-Zayas and Zabryna Guevara. Water by the Spoonful is the second play in a trilogy that began with Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue. The third play in the trilogy, The Happiest Song Plays Last, is scheduled to make its world premiere in April 2013 at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago. All three plays in the trilogy take place in Philadelphia, from whence Hudes hails.
"I'm still in this first decade of my professional writing life," explained the writer, who studied with playwright Paula Vogel at Brown University. "I've been attracted to stories that come out of my family and experience. I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I have connected to various communities there. I got to know and appreciate the city's diversity and its various dividing lines."
The story in Water focuses on a returning Iraq War veteran and addresses the subject of addiction. As part of her research, Hudes attended AA meetings and hooked up with online recovery groups. "Recovery is a metaphor for everyday life," she theorized, "for waking up and making it through another day."
Hudes hopes to put together a marathon reading of all three plays in the trilogy at Second Stage in January 2013. After that, her plans are for "more plays, more plays."
That she has recently put the finishing touches on a new drama is very important to her. "I was scared," she said. "I've been working on the trilogy for a long time. I thought, 'What if that's it? What if I have nothing left to say?'" Thankfully the words came at a quicker-than-by-the-spoonful rate.
(This feature appears in the January 2013 issue of Playbill magazine.)