Water by the Spoonful
Written by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Theatre Communications Group, 2012
Drama, 92 pages
"He woke up one day and I was the same as any other person passing by on the street, and life is short, and you can only live in mediocrity so long." - Yaz
Water by the Spoonful, the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winning play by Hudes, features several storylines that all take place on the same stage. From the setting description: "The stage has two worlds. The 'real world' is populated with chairs.... The 'online world' is an empty space. A space that connects the chairs." Characters are often in different places but onstage at the same time, and the setting described made me wish I could see a production of the piece.
I was also intrigued by the idea of an online world. Several scenes take place in chatrooms, and I became quite curious as to how this would play out. In a book, we can simply read the action, and we aren't that concerned with what characters are doing. However, plays are, ultimately, a visual medium. Hudes addresses this in an opening note telling us to avoid having actors at keyboards and to "treat it like regular conversation rather than the act of writing or typing." Later, the first time we experience the chatroom, the stage directions read: "She goes over to her computer, clicks a button. On a screen we see:" and then there is an indication that her online icon, username, and status pop up. Each of the online characters are, at least initially, introduced through a ding and a screen lighting up with their icon, username, and online status. At first I had reservations as to whether this would work for me as an audience member but, ultimately, that is the responsibility of the production team as a whole. On the page, the intent is communicated and the action clear.
Another visual I found interesting occurs toward the end of the play when Elliot and Yaz find Odessa following her overdose. The stage direction: "Elliot lifts her with Yaz's help. They struggle under her weight. In fact they lift the air. Odessa stands up, lucid, and watches the action: Elliot and Yaz struggling under her invisible weight." Because we've already been in many places at once in this play, with worlds crossing, I am able to accept another world, we'll call it the spiritual realm, as a possibility. Had other worlds not already crossed, I think this late inclusion would have pulled me out of the story. However, they have, and, for me, this all worked.
The Pulitzer Prize in Drama is often awarded to a work that, in one way or another, pushes boundaries or expands our definition of theatre. Water by the Spoonful certainly achieves that, and it did its job as a blueprint. I would want to see this play on the stage.