Quiara Alegría Hudes, Post-Pulitzer, Eyes the Next Chapter

June 11, 2012

Quiara Alegría Hudes
This content is sourced from the Los Angeles Times.

At 34, playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes has a lot going for her: this year's Pulitzer Prize for drama, a piece of a Tony Award-winning musical (In the Heights) and a growing repute as one of the most poetic, socially clued-in young voices in the American theater.

Now what she really could use is a little West Coast love.

The off-Broadway Second Stage theater company just announced that it will produce Hudes' Pulitzer-winning Water by the Spoonful, which premiered in October at Hartford Stage. Based on the life of a cousin, Hudes' lyrical drama shifts focus between a young Marine, Elliot, who's trying to readjust to life in Philadelphia after serving in Iraq, and a disparate group of recovering addicts who communicate mainly through Internet chats.

Getting a New York production is often a crucial first step for a new play trying to gain traction at U.S. regional theaters. But whether, or when, Hudes' work will land in Southern California is hard to predict. No L.A.-area venue has plans to stage one of her plays.

"I feel like in some ways my whole family is always living in translation, like much of myself culturally, I always feel like I live between a few worlds."

"I've never actually been produced in L.A. or on the Left Coast, so that would be pretty cutting," Hudes said by phone. "I mean, Heights stopped there on its tour," at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood in 2010, "but that's different from, like, setting up roots there for a while and actually sinking my teeth into a new production."

Hudes' personal story would be familiar in polyglot Southern California. A Philadelphia native whose father was Jewish and mother was Puerto Rican, Hudes grew up surrounded by both English and Spanish, which her grandmother spoke exclusively. Family summer vacations in Puerto Rico kept her in touch with her Latin American cultural roots. "The landscape of the island, it's in my heart for sure," she said.

Although she says she's far more secure speaking and writing in English than Spanish, the rhythms of both idioms as well as Latin music permeate her plays. "I feel like in some ways my whole family is always living in translation," she said. "Like much of myself culturally, I always feel like I live between a few worlds."

Hudes has shown a penchant for tackling topics that U.S. popular culture generally shuns, notably the Iraq war and its stateside ripple effects. Water by the Spoonful is the second in a trilogy of plays that began with Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue," a 2007 Pulitzer finalist that dramatized the effects of three wars (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq) on three generations of a Puerto Rican family.

"Without ever invoking current politics, Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue, manages to be a deeply poetic, touching and often funny indictment of the war in Iraq," Phoebe Hoban wrote in a review for the New York Times of the play's February 2006 production at 45 Below at the Culture Project in Lower Manhattan.

Water by the Spoonful continues that tale, and Hudes said she was pleased that the Pulitzer jury recognized what she calls her "big, messy, epic piece." The playwright said she had yearned to return to Elliot's story after writing the book for In the Heights, the boisterous salsa- and hip-hop-scored Broadway hit with tunes and lyrics by its charismatic star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, set in New York's Dominican American Washington Heights neighborhood.

"Certainly, I was thinking about — not to compare the writing at all but certainly influenced by and thinking about — Angels In America when I wrote this piece," she said. "I was thinking about August: Osage County. I was thinking about big, big plays, and I wanted to write a big play even though it can come back to haunt you because it's very hard for a lot of theaters budget-wise."

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