Water by the Spoonful Summary

Quiara Alegría Hudes

Water by the Spoonful

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Water by the Spoonful Summary

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The play unfolds across multiple locations in both the real world, and in online chatrooms for recovering addicts.

Elliot Ortiz is an Iraqi War veteran, an aspiring actor who works at a Subway in Philadelphia. He’s scarred both physically and emotionally from his time in the Marines. The play opens with Eliot learning of the passing of Mami Ginny, the aunt who raised him. He shares the news with his cousin Yazmin, who works as an adjunct music professor. They struggle to together make funeral arrangements that will make everyone happy.

Ginny’s sister, Odessa, runs an online chat room for people recovering from addiction. Odessa is fighting an addiction to crack cocaine. Two other characters interact within the chat room: “Orangutan” and “Chutes and Ladders.” We learn that Odessa is Elliot’s birth mother; she had given Elliot to Ginny because of her unfitness stemming, in part, from her addiction. When Elliot was a child, Odessa abandoned him and his sister. As a result, Elliot’s sister died.

Elliot still harbors anger toward Odessa over his sister’s death, and so he reveals this past to the chat room users. Odessa spirals into her guilt, using crack cocaine again. She almost dies as a result.

Back in the chat room, Orangutan and Chutes and Ladders challenge each other to go deeper into their recovery than ever before. Orangutan decides to go to Japan to search for her birth home. Chutes and Ladders sells his car so he can also go, in support.

Odessa recovers from her overdose, joined by another member of the chat room, Fountainhead, who’s been challenged to help another addict as part of his own recovery process. At the same time, Elliot and Yazmin travel to Puerto Rico to scatter Ginny’s ashes.

All the characters in the play are working their way through recovery. While this is often recovery from drug addiction, additionally, characters are recovering from the scars of their pasts. For each of them, recovery relies upon the connections they build with other people walking the same path.

The title of the play comes from Elliot’s hospital trip as a child to treat the flu that was responsible for his sister’s death. To help alleviate dehydration, children were to be given a spoonful of water every five minutes. The title stresses the theme of recovery that echoes throughout the play.

Water by the Spoonful received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Its weaving of theme through the “real world” and “cyber world” has received praise, along with its honest portrayal of the effects of addiction and trauma.