The first chapter in the “Elliot” trilogy written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Quiara Alegria Hudes, Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue comes to the Classic Theatre in a moving production directed by Ana Olivo Funes.
The piece focuses on three generations of a Puerto Rican family whose lives have all been touched by war. Elliot (Adam Ochoa), fresh out of high school, is heading to Iraq in 2003. His story is intertwined with the Vietnam recollections of his Pop (Luis Garcia, Jr.) and the Korean War experiences of his Grandpop (Steven J. Tugman). Elliot’s mother, Ginny (Keli Rosa Cabunoc Romero), has a war story of her own, having met and fallen in love with Pop while serving as a battlefield nurse.
As the title suggests, their storylines merge and spin around each other like a fugue. Comparing the musical style to an argument, Grandpop says “The voice is the melody, the single solitary melodic line. Another voice creeps up on the first one. Voice two responds to voice one. They tangle together. They argue, they become messy.”
Indeed, this is how the play is assembled. Each character delivers bits and pieces of his or her story as time periods and locations shift. If it sounds confusing, it’s not. Hudes knows where she wants to take the audience, and these knotted threads gradually untangle into a coherent whole.
Everyone reflects on the days they spent on the battlefront. His memory fading, Grandpop doesn’t recall much about his Korean war experience with the exception of the times he played the flute for the other soldiers during breaks in combat. Pop’s memory is more vivid, particularly since it’s bound to Ginny, the nurse with the healing touch who became his wife.
Ginny is the earth mother whose love nourishes them all, a metaphor made concrete by her incessant tending of a neighborhood garden. “Each seed is a contract with the future,” she declares.
Elliot thinks that enlisting in the marines is the only way to avoid wasting his life making sandwiches at Subway. It is through his eyes that the audience experiences most immediately the horrors of war — death, disease and the agonizing leg wound he receives that is so similar to the one his father suffered in Vietnam. He doesn’t realize how closely his life matches Pop’s until his mother gives him a box of letters Pop had written to Grandpop from the war.
Director Funes determined that Elliot would lend itself perfectly to the Suzuki and Viewpoints theatrical styles that incorporate movement and the use of creative space, and she was absolutely correct. The characters are constantly in motion, creating a sort of dance that runs throughout the piece, and the effect is mesmerizing. The excellent cast is more than up to the task, handling this unique approach to the material with consummate skill. Enhancing the overall mood are Les Johnson and Alfy Valdez’s evocative, spare set and the lighting and sound design by Pedro Ramirez and Daniel Wheelock.
The limited-run Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue plays for three more dates: Oct. 25-26 at 8:00 p.m. and Oct. 27 at 3:00 p.m., at the Classic Theatre of San Antonio, 1924 Fredericksburg Road. Tickets are available online or by calling the box office at (210) 589-8450.
Feature photo (l-r): Steven J. Tugman, Adam Ochoa and Luis Garcia, Jr. (Cate Creative).