By Beki Pineda
ELLIOT, A SOLDIER’S FUGUE. Written by Quiara Alegria Hudes; directed by Chip Walton. Produced by Curious Theatre Company (1080 Acoma St., Denver) through April 23. Tickets available at 303-623-2349 or www.curioustheatre.org.
The number three has various mystical meanings, but in all societies, it is the number of time. Past, present, future; beginning, middle, end. Even birth, life, death. ELLIOT is a trilogy of plays, all three involving the same family of characters. It encompasses the experiences of three soldiers representing three generations serving in three wars—Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. While ELLIOT is the first play of three in this example of serial storytelling, seeing it does not commit you to seeing all of them. ELLIOT stands on its own as an homage to military service and an exploration of the mindset of a warrior. While the men have difficulty talking to each other about the horrors they have survived, they have no qualms about sharing them with the audience.
In a nutshell, Grandpop (Michael Duran) took his gun and his flute to the Korean border. He was not happy to see his son, known as Pop (Antonio Mercado), enlist for service in Vietnam. A leg injury brought Pop to the military hospital where he met his wife, Ginny (Gabriella Cavallero). Years later, all three were fearful but understanding when son Elliot (Thony Mena) opted to enlist for no other reason than family tradition, and then found himself sent to Iraq. This relatively simple plot line is blessed with beautifully expressed poetic monologues about family, responsibility and patriotism. The joy of coming together, the happiness at coming home, the falsehood behind “heroic” actions, the meaning of comradeship—all are explored through the experiences of this family group.
The playwright is said to have based the central character of Elliot on a cousin who served in the Middle East. This is an inadequate explanation for her deep understanding of the futility of war and the damage it does to the human psyche. Her empathic treatment of the psychological wounds suffered by each generation is tempered by the optimism and hope inherent in their heritage. I kept saying to myself throughout the depiction, “From one so young.”
The fugue of the title refers to the Bach fugues Grandpop played on his flute to cheer or mourn his comrades. It also denotes the military theme that runs through the family history. In this case, it is a pattern of war experiences that are repeated with slight variations to a resulting final phrase. Each member of the family was wounded or tended to the wounded. Pop lost Grandpop’s flute but found a wife in Vietnam. Elliot came back wounded but wrapped in the uncomfortable trappings of a “hero.” Variations on a central theme.
The set by Markas Henry provided sitting and standing positions on various levels for reading letters and speaking monologues while not getting in the way of the story. Ginny’s garden of hope was created from camo cloth made greener in the lights with vines to bind her son to his home. The costumes by Kevin Brainerd and realistic props by Kristin MacFarlane lent authenticity to an otherwise mystical setting. A warlike mood was illuminated by Richard Devin’s lighting design, which created jungles, gardens, and the wide expanses of the mind.
You’ll be sorry if you miss the first of the three episodes in this trilogy. It would be like watching GAME OF THRONES starting at Season Three. Don’t be sorry!
WOW factor: 8.5