Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue

There are generations of men and women who are bound by war. They are all injured, emotionally or physically, or killed by it, whether they are victims or perpetrators, whether they know it or not. No one ever wins in war—even those who profit by it—though some profiteers think they do.

Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue ensemble
Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue ensemble
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In the first installment and regional premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes' Elliot trilogy, Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue, three generations of soldiers— Grandpop (Michael R. Duran), Pop (Antonio Mercado), and Elliot (Thony Mena)—try to come to grips with their battle experiences, while wife and mother, Ginny (Gabriella Cavallero) calls on her garden to deliver her men safely home.

Her son, Elliot, is about to go off to war. He enlisted out of high school to follow his dad into the Marines, only to be sent to Iraq after the George W. Bush regime declared war based on the fabrication that Saddam Hussein possessed "weapons of mass destruction" (WMDs). Elliot's dad, Pop, served in Vietnam, and Elliot's grandfather, Grandpop, served in Korea. They each were forced to kill or be killed.

Thony Mena as Elliot
Thony Mena as Elliot
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Hudes does remarkable work exploring the emotions, spoken and unspoken, that drive men to go to war. In the case of Grandpop, Pop, and Elliot, they, like many immigrant families, display their gratitude for escaping the old country with any number of compensations, including: zealous patriotism for their new homeland; economic necessity, to get paid and receive veterans' benefits; as well as macho bragging rights, in some circles, that go with shooting people "in defense of" your country.

As the title indicates, the narrative structure of Hudes' play is a fugue, in which a theme is explored in various voices, with points and counterpoints. The form—which is discussed in the story when Grandpop recalls bringing his flute to Korea and playing Bach for his combat group—is evident throughout, with each of the story's four voices introduced separately as themes, and then in combination, sometimes harmoniously and sometimes discordantly; though, much of what transpires is narrative recollection, delivered via superb monologues by all players.

Mena cuts an impressive figure as Elliot—a newly re-minted Marine, up at the crack of dawn for a cold shower and exercise, in preparation to ship out for a second tour of duty in Iraq—brimming with optimism and fondness for his Puerto Rican roots and Philadelphia upbringing. Mercado finds a deep anger from Pop's tour in Vietnam, as he describes killing the enemy and the effects of the chemical and biological weapons on his feet. This latent anger comes to a head when Elliot asks Pop about his experience shooting people.

Gabriella Cavallero as Ginny and Antonio Mercado as Pop
Gabriella Cavallero as Ginny
and Antonio Mercado as Pop
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Duran leverages an even-tempered disposition to explore the elderly wisdom, musician's aethestic, and wizened soldier facets of Grandpop's life. He tries to pass along his love of the flute to Pop, but the instrument is jettisoned in Vietnam. Cavallero exudes love and conjures healing energy for the men as a lover, mother, nurse, and medicine woman.

In this second installment of Curious' Serial Storytelling initiative that began with Terrell Alvin McCrady's Brother/Sister plays, producing artistic director Chip Walton once again introduces us to a previously unexplored world to be revealed over multiple theatrical productions. And once again, Curious' designers deliver a rich environment of sound (Brian Freeland), light (Richard Devin), scenic design (Markus Henry) and costuming (Kevin Brainerd) that lifts the story.

Hudes wisely leaves the war scenes and their emotional repercussions to speak for themselves, but we cannot miss the overriding image of poor people fighting and dying in somebody else's war. Oh yes, we have heard all the invented reasons for why we must waste the vast majority of our productive capacity on paying for armaments to be spent on concocted hostilities (Tell me again, how many companies own almost all the mass media in the U.S.? Five.). We can only shake our heads at the public acceptance of such collusion between the financiers and their corporate and government puppets, who show no shame in spilling blood for profit and power. Look no further than the plurality of primary votes for warmongers, both red and blue, with only one exception.

Curious Theatre Company's regional premiere of Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue, by Quiara Alegría Hudes runs through April 23rd. For tickets:

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