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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue
Walnut Street Theatre

A Soldier's Fugue
Edward Furs, Ephraim Lopez and Nick Anselmo
Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue is a short, terse play that manages to say a lot in only seventy minutes. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, Quiara Alegría Hudes' tale about a Puerto Rican-American family veers back and forth in time as it spans three generations, three hometowns and three wars. It's a sobering and gripping saga, and director José M. Aviles' production makes the clashes abroad and at home equally compelling.

Elliot Ortiz, a 2002 graduate of Philadelphia's Edison High, joins the Marines and ships out to Iraq because he wants to be like his father (a Vietnam veteran) and his grandfather (who served in Korea). Pop and Grandpop never told Elliot about the horrors of war, and when Elliot faces nightmares and injuries, he's unprepared. Hudes' play shows us what Elliot's been missing, as all three generations take turns telling their stories. Grandpop, a musician, focuses on the Bach fugues he plays on the flute for his unit and how they help him focus on something other than death. Pop chronicles his anguish, pouring his heart out in letters home—letters that Grandpop dismisses. Elliot's mother served as a nurse in Vietnam, and in the 21st century she's still a caregiver and a nurturer, only now she focuses on her garden and how it gives her life meaning. "When your son goes to war," she says, "you plant every goddamn seed you can find. It doesn't matter what the seed is. So long as it grows." She's an earth mother in more ways than one.

All the characters have distinct voices, and each is hauntingly poetic. The four actors create a live aural collage as they take turns reciting military code, letters sent home, and even stage directions. Meanwhile, the spare but effective set and the moody lighting and sound design complement the words perfectly, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. The theatergoer feels trapped along with Elliot.

The major failing of Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue is the lack of interaction between the characters. Most of the play consists of monologues; the one scene that breaks the mold, the story of how Elliot's parents met in Vietnam, falls flat. Yet, thanks to its flurry of words and torrents of emotion, Avilés' production never seems static. Ephraim López (as Elliot) and Johanna Carden (as his mother) have an engaging openness, while Nick Anselmo (Pop) and Edward Furs (Grandpop) show the transition from bright-eyed recruit to jaded veteran with touching clarity.

Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue runs through March 14, 2010 at the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $30, and are available by calling the box office at 215-574-3550, online at www.walnutstreettheatre.org or www.ticketmaster.com, or by visiting the box office.

Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue
Written by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Directed by José M. Avilés
Set Designer ... Andrew Thompson
Costume Designer ... Mary Folino
Lighting Designer ... Shelley Hicklin
Stage Manager ... Sara May

CAST:
Pop ... Nick Anselmo
Ginny ... Johanna Carden
Grandpop ... Edward Furs
Elliot ... Ephraim López


Photo: Tom Miller


-- Tim Dunleavy



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