Review: A Transcendent Tale Of A War-Torn Family

Feb. 18, 2018 | By Bruce R. Feldman

"Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue," Kirk Douglas Theater, Jan. 27 - Feb. 25

In Brief: Theatrical magic lights up the Kirk Douglas Theater in An important, elegiac play that speaks to our times and anxieties. Fierce, heartbreaking performances from four gifted actors makes this a Simply stunning experience. Go see it now while you can.

A tender mantle of sadness and loss – if not regret – pervades Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue. Quiara Alegría Hudes’s masterful meditation on three generations of soldiers in one Philadelphia family may respect the valor of military service, but it doesn’t glorify its devastating impact on the men and women who serve. Rather, the harsh, debilitating realties of combat come to rule their lives, their relationships, and their – and our – very humanity.

Peter Mendoza, Rubén Garfias (rear), Jason Manuel Olazábal. (Photo: Craig Schwartz)

Hudes writes with a formidable, poetic voice. Through a series of monologues on recurring themes – hence the reference to fugue in the title – addressed mostly to the audience rather than to those on stage, she expresses the fears of her characters, but also rejoices in their zeal and love for each other. Ultimately it’s the former that comes to the fore as her play deftly moves back and forth in time, dreamlike, unhurriedly revealing the indelible pain of combat on the Ortiz clan: Grandpop, who served in Korea; Pop, a Vietnam war veteran; Elliot, who went off to Iraq and returned injured; and Elliot’s mother, who gardened ferociously while her son was away at war.

This is an unembellished production. The only items on the stage are two cots, a handful of props, and a few rear-screen projections. It’s up to the actors to deliver the theatrical wizardry and give meaning to the literary text.

Peter Mendoza is memorable as the youngest solider in his family. (Photo: Craig Schwartz)

And they do that superbly, under the assured, unfussy direction of Shishir Kurup. Indeed, the acting is flat out magnificent. Peter Mendoza is especially impressive in the title role. In the beginning, he swaggers on the stage, brimming with enthusiasm, smiling broadly, full of hope. You can’t help but love this guy. And yet, over the play’s brief 75-minute duration, his performance becomes more nuanced, seamlessly descending into disappointment and self-reflection. Mendoza is a talent on the rise.

Jason Manuel Olazábal as his father, Rubén Garfias as Grandpop, and Caro Zeller, in the dual roles of an army nurse and Elliot’s fretful mother, are equally splendid. Each is memorable, commanding.

In the end, the essence of great theatre isn’t the razzle-dazzle of lavish sets, costumes and stars, as pleasurable as that can be to experience from time to time. Here’s what’s important: eloquent writing that makes an audience think and feel, brought to life by vivid, authoritative acting. On that basis, Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue is a triumph.

See it before it closes on Feb. 25.

#theater #reviews #arts