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Elliott, A Soldier's Fugue

a Drama
by Quiara Alegría Hudes

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 1746

SHOWING : September 08, 2006 - October 01, 2006



Kent Gash directs this lyrical piece on how war affects three generations of the same family.

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Silences and Grace Notes
by Dedalus
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Many plays use (or try to use) the aesthetics of music to convey a mood or to work it’s way into your subconscious. Craig Lucas’ “Blue Window” ends on a chorus of overlapping monologues in which phrases and feelings drift from speaker to speaker in an eloquent elegy to missed connections and loneliness. Robert Earl Price’s “Come on in My Kitchen” (staged earlier this year at 7 Stages) tries to frame the themes of Compromise and Passion in the framework of a Blues Guitar riff. And now, Quiara Alegría Hudes’ “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” (on the Alliance’s Hertz Stage) weaves the stories of three generations of soldiers into a haunting and Bach-like fugue of emotion and lyricism.

Written in reaction to how her cousin was changed by his experiences in the Iraq War, Ms. Hudes has chosen to show us three generations of a single Puerto-Rican-American family – Grandpop (Gilbert Cruz), a veteran of the Korean War, Pop (Matthew Montelongo), a veteran of Vietnam who meets and marries an Army Nurse, Ginny (Mary Lynn Owen, looking much younger than she did in “Kimberly Akimbo”), and their son Elliot (Ivan Quintanilla) a young marine in Iraq. In an inspired choice, Ms. Hudes chooses to have most of the play presented in monologues, overlapping and juxtaposed, so the characters interreact only occasionally, usually in the forms of letters home from the front. In this way, we see the characters at about the same age, facing the same perils, experiencing the same joys and agonies.

Like the Bach fugues Grandpop plays for his platoon, the dialogue takes its themes and motifs and weaves them though all three timelines. For example, we see a sequence of Grandpop suffering frostbite, leading into scenes of Pop and Elliot both receiving leg wounds; we see Ginny at home in the green of her Philadelphia garden leading into a scene of Pop in the green of the Viet Nam jungle leading to a scene of Grandpop freezing under the evergreens of Korea leading into a scene of Elliot watching a green Iraq nightscape through his night-vision goggles.

And yet, the accomplishment of this work is that the bonds between the characters are as strong as in any play with direct interaction. These dramatic bonds snuck up on me, so when actual interactions occurred (for example, Gin’s seduction of Pop or Gin’s nursing of Elite’s wounded leg), they hit me with a force that left me shaken.

Yet, for all the style and lyricism of the dialogue, what’s also memorable are the silences – the things left unsaid through unwillingness (Pop will not talk to Elliot about his wartime experiences) or inability (Grandpop suffers Alzheimer’s before Elliot is old enough to learn of his wartime experiences). Just as compelling are the pauses before the “big moments” (Pop and Elliot making their first kills or Ginny and Pop’s first kiss).

Technically, all the pieces fall together in this production – lighting and scenes flow from moment to moment without upstaging the actors or distracting from the poetry of the piece. Kent Gash’s direction and all four actors’ performances combine inspire a wide range of compelling emotional responses. If I have any complaints, it’s that, at 70 minutes, the play is a tad short – giving us more of Grandpop and Ginny’s wartime experiences would not have lessened the impact or diluted the music of the piece.

Mr. Gash’s Director’s Notes describe this as a play that makes no political stance but looks at the effects of war on individuals and family. In my mind, this is a tad ingenuous. “Elliot” shows that war affects three generations in exactly the same ways, in spite of surface differences and “rules.” It shows that those who fight war “at the ground level” experience the same traumas and fears and dehumanizing terrors, spite of political variations at the “Macro” level. It shows the profound affects three different wars have on a single family. In these ways, “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” makes as passionate an anti-war statement as any ever written.

This is a play, a production, filled with melody and light, with silence and music, with agony and joy, with eroticism and hearth-love, with willful forgetfulness and unwilling remembrance. It is an experience to be cherished.

-- Brad Rudy (



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