Elliot Lingers in the Past
By Patrick Hurley
A metaphor manifest through a time-bending series of monologues, makes Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue, playing now at the Kirk Douglas, a lyrical but uneven patchwork.
Broken into a series of connected monologues the play reaches toward something grand in its ideas, but fails to fully plumb the emotional depths that the subject requires. The first monologue is delivered by Elliot’s mom, Ginny (Caro Zellar), who is also a nurse during the Vietnam war. This is perhaps the most striking and richest in imagery of the evening. We are brought into the artificial world of Ginny’s imagination, where she wanders through a concrete garden. The beauty of it is in the theatricality. It is expressed through the artifice of her own making. Where theater exposes the need for suspension of disbelief, so too does Ginny’s world. She also sets the tone for the play, we understand from her insistence that this will be a story about hope. She wanders her garden planting seeds because as she says, “a seed is a contract with the future. A sentiment that allows for a deeper thematic structure to unfold within the telling of the subsequent monologues.
This is a story of connection and family, tracing three soldiers through their individual experiences of war and linking them by the bonds of nature. Each bringing a poetic depth to the idea of war and suffering, all without politicizing or rallying against anything. Playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, is a lyricist as much as a playwright here. There is a musical-style to the structure and a kind of rhythm that sometimes gives the piece a poetic flow. However, the active throughline of the piece seems to be somewhat lost in the heightened language and sometimes languorous pacing. When Elliot (Peter Mendoza) delivers his monologue about being injured in the war, the play has been so actively working on its language, that the visceral impact, the pathos we could and probably should be having at this moment is held too tightly away from us by the verbose nature of these characters. We are overwhelmed by the words.
Director Shishir Kurup stages everything cleanly. This is not a misfire as a production, only a play that might need more theatricality in the staging of it. The words are beautiful, and sometimes help the action rise above stagnation, but for a good length of the play, we are lost in them. Dramatic actions become something that have already happened, in the revealing of these past stories, the present moments become exactly what the title suggests, a fugue. How difficult it must be as a theater artist to take on a play like this, where the ideas are sometimes based on memory, and sometimes stream-of-consciousness, and yet have to be the engine for something now. Theater is only ever in the present tense, and when recollection takes over the need of our characters, we fall into a place where suddenly a seventy-minute running time doesn’t feel abbreviated, but can actually test the patience.
As part of a trilogy–the other two opening in Los Angeles later this month–Ms. Hudes has created the promise of something significant here. She is a gifted writer of ideas, and her language hits particularly poignantly when the story is most focused and moving forward. This is why Ginny’s monologue succeeds the most, it is clear, concise and fueled by a mother’s need. In the world of storytelling nothing is more compelling to us than a character who needs something that he or she can’t quite have, and reflected in that need is humanity itself. This scratches that surface, but just doesn’t dive deep enough to really earn catharsis. We stay for too long lost in the idea of what was, and not long enough in what is or what will be. But it shows the incredible promise of a wonderful voice in the theater.
Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue
By Quiara Alegría Hudes
Directed by Shishir Kurup
Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Intermission: “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” is performed without an intermission.
Ticket Prices: $25 – $70 (Ticket prices are subject to change.)
Tickets are available · Online at http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org
Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232