Quiara Alegria Hudes had no plans to write a trilogy after she completed her play, "Elliot: A Soldier's Fugue," which went on the be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.
Hudes went on to other projects, including the Broadway musical "In the Heights," where she was nominated for a Tony Award (and which was also a finalist for a Pulitzer).
"But then I started missing the work and the collaboration I had with 'Elliot,' "says the 33-year-old playwright recently in Hartford.
She started thinking again of her protagonist - a young Puerto Rican man from Philadelphia who returns from the Iraq War with issues that relate and contrast with his father and grandfather's experiences as soldiers in the Vietnam and Korean Wars. The character of Elliot is inspired from Hudes' cousin, Elliot Ruiz, from her hometown of Philadelphia. "He's cool with it," she says of her relative, "and he understands that it is a work of fiction."
"But was the play a one-shot deal or was there more to the story?" she says she asked herself.
Hudes began thinking of Elliot's life beyond the narrative of the first play. "My cousin has continued to go on and lead a really interesting life - so I started thinking about another play and then a trilogy."
The result is "Water By the Spoonful," which is receiving its world premiere at Hartford Stage where Hudes was an Aetna New Voices Fellow. (It was also part of the "Brand:NEW" play reading festival at the theater.)
For the production she is reunited with "Elliot"'s original director, Davis McCallum, and Armando Riesco, who plays Elliot. Also featured in the cast are Ray Anthony Thomas (Hartford stage's "Gem of the Ocean"), Zabryna Guevara (Hartford Stage's "The Cook"), "), Liza Colon-Zayas ,, Demosthenes Chrysan, Matthew Boston and Theresa Avia Lim.
Hudes wrote the second and third plays of the trilogy in a year, she says. The third work, "The Happiest Song Plays Last" was developed last summer at the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford (and is slated to be done at Chicago's Goodman Theater).
She says "Spoonful" is a self-contained work and theatergoers do not have to see "Elliot" to connect to the new work. Each has its own rhythms and melodies.
A music composition major at Yale, Hudes often thinks in musical terms as she writes. Certainly she did for "Elliot: A Solder's Fugue" with its title, musical imagery and its use of Bach. For "Spoonful," she felt American jazz was the perfect accompaniment, especially music inspired by John Coltrane. For "Happiest Song," the inspiration came from Puerto Rican and Middle Eastern folk music.
ACCENT ON RECOVERY
"I knew the second part of the trilogy was going to be about addiction and recovery," says Hudes, "but with an emphasis on recovery. But after you recover you then have to become something, right? The third play is essentially about a young person who decides on the kind of man he finally wants to be."
Hudes says in "Elliot," the 19-year-old title character deals with his ambivalent feelings about being hailed a hometown hero. The basic question in "Spoonful," she says, "is how does someone barely out of high school, who goes to war, ... return to the mundaneness of civilian life."
"Spoonful," she says, is about being slammed into a daily grind - that includes a damaged family with its own issues (his mother is a recovering addict) - that's swallowing his identity. "It's about survival. He knows he doesn't want (what he has), but he doesn't know what to do. The play is about him trying to figure out how to become his own person."
But the past - and a difficult present - is hard to escape.
Director Davis McCallum says there's a scene in the play where a female character talks about being a kid at Catholic Mass and being fearful of the statues coming to life to "get her." Buddhism isn't scary, she says, because "if there are spirits, they are hiding inside you."
"But aren't they the scariest kind?" another character responds.
Hudes, who is half-Puerto Rican and half-Jewish says she wanted to write a trilogy that embraces how to be an individual in an increasingly global and techno-connected world. In the third play- which Hudes describes as a crowd-pleasing romantic comedy - Elliot finds himself returning to the Middle East but in an entirely different context: cast in a movie being filmed during the Arab Spring where he relives his war trauma Hollywood-style.
Hudes' other projects include working on a musical version of "Like Water for Chocolate," based on the Laura Esquivel novel, which will be presented at Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage next June.
She is also keeping an eye on i the progression of "In the Heights." The non-Equity tour was in New London Saturday and will be in Waterbury Nov. 4 and 5; the first international production launched in the Philippines; and though the big Hollywood film version of the musical is off, it is being eyed by indie film producers and directors, she says.
She may also collaborate with Lin-Manuel Miranda, "In the Heights" composer and star, about a musical version of Chaim Potok's coming-of-age book about the conflicts of art and faith, "My Name Is Asher Lev." "My first Jewish piece,' she says. "But right now we're taking baby steps."
A dream, she says, will be to have all three of her "Elliot" plays produced together, she says. "But one step at a time," she says
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