Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue Review – War is Hell

L-R: Rubén Garfias, Peter Mendoza and Jason Manuel Olazábal in “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” - Photo by Craig Schwartz

The first in talented playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes’s trilogy about family and war, ELLIOT: A SOLDIER’S FUGUE opens at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2018. Born in Philadelphia, the child of a Jewish father and a Puerto Rican mother, Hudes employed her training in music (B.A., Yale University) and writing (M.F.A., Brown University) to create this Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2007. Premiering off-Broadway in 2006, ELLIOT: A SOLDIER’S FUGUE, wowed the critics and established Hudes as an important writer of the twenty-first century. Hudes has been praised for her ability to blend the music of sound and language.

L-R: Peter Mendoza, Rubén Garfias, and Jason Manuel Olazábal – Photo by Craig Schwartz

ELLIOT: A SOLDIER’S FUGUE explores three generations in a Puerto Rican family, generations in which each patriarch served in combat. The youngest, 19-year-old Elliot (Peter Mendoza) has just returned from war in Iraq, where he was wounded and earned a Purple Heart. His father (Jason Manuel Olazabal) served in Viet Nam in his youth – but has never discussed his war experiences with his son. Elliot’s grandfather (Ruben Garfias) also served as a Marine in Korea – but, like his son, has never spoken of his war-time experiences. A wall of silence surrounds each.

Peter Mendoza as “Elliot – Photo by Craig Schwartz

As Elliot recovers from his injuries, he must decide whether or not he should return to battle in Iraq. At the same time, he yearns for a closer, more open relationship with his father – a relationship which will permit each man to share painful memories openly. But what of the machismo inherent in the Puerto Rican culture? Is sharing vulnerability acceptable? Or even desirable?

Caro Zeller and Jason Manuel Olazábal – Photo by Craig Schwartz

ELLIOT: A SOLDIER’S FUGUE follows the military experiences of these three men as they navigate through their young lives while dodging bullets. Pop is badly wounded in Viet Nam and seems to have lost the desire to live – until he meets Ginny (Caro Zeller), the pretty, seductive, and somewhat pugnacious nurse who is determined that he will walk again. Even if she has to scatter kisses along the way. Ginny, who will eventually become the conduit through which each of the three men speaks.

Caro Zeller, Rubén Garfias, Jason Manuel Olazábal, and (above) Peter Mendoza – Photo by Craig Schwartz

ELLIOT: A SOLDIER’S FUGUE is raw and uncensored – but nonetheless maintains an oblique poetry which shines through the noir. Voices are raised and silenced across the far points of the stage as the four sustain a quartette of sorts. The poignant tale is carefully woven through the words – or absence of words – as the talented four actors carefully play off each other in a finely tuned piece.

Rubén Garfias – Photo by Craig Schwartz

Capable director Shishir Kurup deftly twines all the separate threads into a coherent whole. Of course, he is assisted by four adept individuals who somehow become a family on stage. Sibyl Wickersheimer’s scenic design is spare but effective, especially when aided by Raquel Barreto’s costumes, Geoff Korf’s lighting, and John Nobori’s sound. This is definitely a play which explores the inner life of four people with skill and compassion. The story is character-driven, and it is obvious why these individuals inspired playwright Hudes to keep writing about them.

Caro Zeller – Photo by Craig Schwartz

ELLIOT: A SOLDIER’S FUGUE runs through February 25, 2018, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays (no performances February 13-15). The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Tickets range from $25 to $70. For information and reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online.

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