Thursday, February 5, 2015

Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue

Play #9: Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue by Quiara Alegria Hudes

Well, I was right. I definitely wish I had read this one first. I got such a sense of the importance of Ginny to Elliot in this play, and since Ginny never actually appears in Water by the Spoonful, the connection was something I just had to sort of believe second hand rather than actually knowing about it. Elliot is the story of Elliot's return from his first tour in Iraq. He was wounded, but even so, he returns for a second tour. The construction of the play is less linear than Spoonful, built like a musical fugue. A fugue, according to the good ol' OED, is "a polyphonic composition constructed on one or more short subjects or themes, which are harmonized according to the laws of counterpoint, and introduced from time to time with various contrapuntal devices." This play behaves very much like this. Constructed out of the memories of Elliot, his father (Pop), his grandfather (Grandpop), and Ginny, as well as some local interviews Elliot participates in during his week on leave, the characters almost never actually speak to each other. They speak to the audience, they speak via letters written from the front lines of Vietnam and Korea. It is an intricate tapestry of three generations of a family of veterans, and the experiences they share - though they have never actually spoken about them. The trauma that each of them carries (Ginny was a wartime nurse in Vietnam, so she shares the experiences as well) weighs on them, but it also connects them, whether they know it or not. Like Spoonful, Hudes asks for nonrealistic staging elements, seeking the poetic and theatrical rather than the literal. The penultimate scene, when Ginny takes Elliot into the garden to help heal his wound soars as she wraps him in ivy (just like he was wrapped in barbed wire in Iraq), and helps him to find happiness and healing within. And this healing is compounded when she hands him his father's letters that he had written home from Vietnam. It related experiences that Elliot understood first hand, but had never been able to get his father to talk about. The final moment of the play sees each of the men as the young man he is/was when he goes/went off to war. This might be one of the more beautiful portrayals I've seen in recent years of the soldier experience. It's a hard and scary and unsettling life that involves injury and having to kill other human beings, but there is also camaraderie and love and music and honor.

I am going to have to get my hands on part three of this series... Hudes really is a lovely writer.

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