Language, A Drug

by Julie Haverkate

in TCG Books

Post image for Language, A Drug

In just a couple weeks, TCG Books will publish Quiara Alegría Hudes’s Water by the Spoonful, the 2012 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (you can pre-order your copy here). The play follows a soldier as he returns from Iraq and struggles to find his place in the world, while somewhere in a chat room, recovering addicts forge a bond. The play is the second piece in Hudes’s trilogy, The Elliot Plays, all of which will be published by TCG. (Keep an eye out in late September for the publication of the first piece, Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue.)

It’s an exciting time for Quiara, and amidst all the rehearsals and writing, we were thankful she found a quiet moment to speak with us.

Julie Haverkate: What was the impetus for these three plays, or more specifically, the character of Elliot?

Quiara Alegría Hudes: My life. My cousin’s life. The landscape of my family. The landscape of this country at a moment of preemptive war. Young people in uniform dying as Bush pulled the wool over Congress’s eyes about weapons of mass destruction. My real cousin, Elliot, was always a bright light in our family. When he was 17 he enlisted in the Marines, just a few days before Bush declared war. Elliot was the youngest Marine to cross the border north into Iraq from Kuwait. He was a child and quickly had blood on his hands and paid his own sacrifice — a very complicated, debilitating leg injury. By the time he was legally old enough to drink a beer, he had a Purple Heart and an honorable discharge. His life as a man was only beginning. What a starting line.

Julie Haverkate: Did you always know his story would be a trilogy?

Quiara Alegría Hudes: That came out of my own process as a developing writer. A few years after I had completed Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue, I still felt that was my most singular work as a writer. I wanted to continue in that vein, and so I decided to continue writing plays with music as my cue. Since that first play, the war had devolved into an utter mess, and it was becoming clear that our hospitals, laws and civilian culture were unprepared to deal with the kind of trauma and PTSD these young servicemen and woman were bringing home. Our country’s story was continuing to evolve, so why not do the same with the plays?

Julie Haverkate: The plays, with their distinct rhythm, incorporate music and poetry, in addition to exploring various methods of communication (letters, internet chat rooms). Can you talk a little bit about how language — and modes of communication — inform Elliot’s world?

Quiara Alegría Hudes: What playwright is not diving into the deep end of language every day? Language is my drug, it intoxicates me, and I don’t limit my dialogue or language just to conversation. For Water by the Spoonful it was thrilling to create online conversation. There is a cultural conceit that all forms of digital communications are bastardizations of language, but I find that to be an easy dismissal of something far more exciting. (I’ve always been skeptical of any argument that things used to be so much better. Things used to be so much worse, too.) I found, as I pored over various chat rooms, that the language being used by people was exquisite: witty, smart, piercing. There were cadences and rhythms that were different than spoken conversation. And the anonymity of it came with a freedom of expression. I took that inspiration and ran with it.

Water by the Spoonful premiered at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT in 2011 and will receive its Off-Broadway premiere at New York City’s Second Stage Theatre in winter 2012. 

Photo by: Josh Lehrer
Quiara Alegría Hudes wrote the book for the Broadway musical In the Heights, which received the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical, a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Hudes is on the board of Philadelphia Young Playwrights, which produced her first play in the tenth grade. She lives in New York with her husband and daughter.

Julie Haverkate is Marketing Associate at Theatre Communications Group. Previously, she has worked at Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester, MI), as well as in the literary offices of Electric Pear Productions and the Summer Play Festival in NYC. Julie has lectured and presented at conferences internationally, and her book, PARADE Diverges, was published by VDM. In addition to dramaturging every now and again, she also writes the blog Critical Confabulations and is a proud alumna of Florida State University (M.A. Theatre Studies ’08).