Everything But Water


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In an online chat room for recovering crack addicts, the usernames Haikumom, Fountainhead, Orangutan, and Chutes and Ladders pass along slogans — “The only way out it is through it”; “One hit is too many — 1,000 is not enough”; and the declared (though censored) winner: “If you’re eating a shit sandwich, chances are you ordered.”

“On my research path, I particularly fell in love with the self-deprecating humor many recovering addicts use to share their stories,” said playwright Quiera Alegría Hudes. “Any chance of redemption comes from the daily commitment to wake up and face one’s own desire to live this flawed, bizarre life.”

Hudes’ metaphysical play Water by the Spoonful, the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, will be staged for the third time ever as the University of Iowa’s first Mainstage Series production of the season, premiering at 8 p.m. today in the Thayer Theater. The play is the second in a trilogy of plays following Elliot Ortiz, a Puerto Rican man and former Marine, as he and other wayward souls learn to navigate life in Philadelphia and abroad.

Water by the Spoonful is cemented in real issues, such as the plight of recovering addicts — online and off — and the struggles of Latino Americans, broken families, and returning military veterans.

“This country has a wonderful, vexing way of smashing unlikely things together,” said Hudes, who is half Puerto Rican and half Jewish. “Any notion of check boxes and rigid identities feels like a lie. To me, this play is an opportunity to reach new people with the story and find the new connections.”

Christopher Rangel, the actor portraying Elliot, said some aspects of the play are “like a fairy tale,” the second-year UI graduate student said he could relate to his character as a Latino ex-military man himself who has undergone his fair share of struggles.

“The challenge for me was not trying to propel myself into an idea of the character and instead allow him to breathe and live in me,” Rangel said. “It definitely can be emotionally exhausting if you put your heart into it. It takes you on a ride.”

Along with other multimedia elements, the play’s conflicts are threaded together with the discordant jazz tunes of John Coltrane, which director Tlaloc Rivas said reflects the dissonance between the two realms in which the play operates. 

“We wanted to create a play with lots of noise, but that returns to a theme in each and all of the scenes,” he said. “One of the joys of working in the theater is that we have to come up with theatrical solutions to creating this fantastical world on stage, and the online world isn’t so different from the real one.”

Rivas said the UI’s production of Water by the Spoonful is not only the first Midwestern staging of the show, but an apt way to honor Latino History Month.

“I think one of the great things about the play is it is epic in scope,” he said. “If you’ve ever watched ‘The West Wing,’ it has that electricity in the dialogue. I like plays that challenge expectations, and I love the conversations that take place after someone’s seen a play like this.”

After accepting her Pulitzer Prize for Water by the Spoonful, and now watching her play expand beyond the East Coast, Hudes said she hopes to use her newfound recognition to advocate for the Puerto Rican community and other groups who may end up appearing not so different after all.

“[The Pulitzer Prize] was a simple pat on the back, a whisper in the ear telling me, ‘Keep going, keep writing,’ ” she said. “My ideal audience [is both] people who have never had exposure to these particular characters and people to whom they are warm and familiar. In this country, there are always surprising connections to be found.”

Water by the Spoonful
When: 8 p.m. today, Friday, and Saturday; 2 p.m. Oct. 13; play runs through Oct. 20
Where: Thayer Theater, Theater Building
Admission: $5 for UI students, $10 for youth, $12 for seniors, and $17 for nonstudents

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