Photograph: Joseph Moran
When The Happiest Song Plays Last premieres at the Goodman Theatre on April 13, this Philadelphia-based playwright will join the small but distinguished tribe of Pulitzer-caliber trilogy writers.
Her tale, which began with 2007’s Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue (a Pulitzer finalist) and continued in 2012’s Water by the Spoonful (a Pulitzer winner), chronicles a combat vet’s return to everyday life.
Contributing theatre critic Catey Sullivan talked with Hudes (who wrote the book for the Tony Award–winning musical In the Heights) about the final chapter of her trilogy—and her creative life beyond the stage.
Her inspiration: The protests in Egypt. I’d get up every morning and read stories about what was going on in Tahrir Square and then write the play inspired by headlines and blog posts. So it was like live-blog playwriting.
Her writing regimen: Nine to five, Monday through Friday, when my husband’s at work and my daughter’s at school.
Her guilty TV pleasure: Project Runway. My costume designer from Water by the Spoonful, Emilio Sosa, made it to the finale in 2010.
Her secret weapon: I try to nap as much as I can.
Her favorite fictional trilogy: No question: Star Wars—the ones they released in the 1970s. They should have just left them alone after that. I’m not a Lord of the Rings person. I like Batman, but I think he’s oversaturated right now.
On her nightstand: Junot Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her and Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son
The playwrights she admires: Tony Kushner (Angels in America); Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive); Sarah Ruhl (In the Next Room); Annie Baker (Circle Mirror Transformation); and August Wilson (The Pittsburgh Cycle)
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Our Q&A with Quiara Alegría Hudes
Your plays are almost exclusively set in Philadelphia, where grew up. What’s your favorite place to hang out there?
Chinatown. There’s one noodle house that has the most amazing pork dumplings. At the Italian market you can get the best cup of coffee and the best slice of pizza.
What was the last really good movie you saw?
We recently watched the Iranian documentary A Separation. I thought it was outstanding.
What magazines do you subscribe to?
We get The New York Times on the weekend. I read the Village Voice everyday online. And I subscribe to The New Yorker.
What blogs do you read now?
I tend to get super obsessed with them, overdose on reading them and then stop. The last one I burned through was called Hullabaloo.
What’s your favorite indulgence food (that you know isn’t good for you)?
I love to cook and I miss it right now. I haven’t been cooking a lot because of the new baby (born in January). My biggest indulgence food would probably be Puerto Rican roast pig. I’m vegetarian, except for the roast pig.
What’s on heavy rotation on your iPod?
Erin McKeown. I’m working with her on a new musical, so I’ve been listening to a lot of her music. Her latest album is Manifestra.
What were the last three songs you downloaded?
A Phineas and Ferb song for my six-year-old’s birthday party. I also downloaded a bunch of solo piano stuff—Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s Supernova. It’s actually not available on download so I had to order the CD. Also Nocturne by Charlie Haden. I have an upcoming project with a jazz pianist, Michel Camilo, so I’m listening to a lot of jazz.
You majored in music at Yale and played in bands for years. What kind of music did you play?
I started in high school, hanging out on the south lawn with the rebels. I had a neo-soul acoustic band we called Solstice.
What do you listen to when you’re writing?
I have different playlists for each of my plays. For The Happiest Song Plays Last, my playlist is a combination of Puerto Rican cuatro music and Oud music from the Middle East.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I have a desk that my dad made—he’s a carpenter so he custom made it for me. He followed the shape of the wood in making it, and it’s the exact shape of Puerto Rico. It’s gorgeous. Sometimes I just sit there petting it.
Name something you’d like to do/see in Chicago besides work on the premiere.
I’m going to be here for the whole rehearsal process. It’ll be a family road trip. I love, love, love Chicago. I find it to be as walkable as New York, and I love to just go walking. That’s one of my important creative activities—wandering aimlessly. Plus, Chicago has a beautiful river. I don’t want to get too ambitious. Between the play and the new baby, I’m looking forward to spending spare time just walking around.
Where was the last place you went on vacation?
Cape Cod. Not exactly exotic, but fantastic hermit crabs, tadpoles, and critters. And beer steamed lobster and great BBQ, care of my husband.