Elliot, A Soldiers Fugue
By Quiara Alegria Hudes
Directed by Patrick Braillard
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando FL
Some families produce artists, some bakers, some politicians, but the Ortiz clan specializes in Marines. Three generation fought and survived some of our least successful expeditions, from Grandpop George (Dave Heuvel) freezing his fingers off in Korea to Little George (Benjamin Rush) sweating bullets in Vietnam to Elliot (Michael Kutner) eating Iraqi dust. Elliott’s biggest desire is to trade war stories with Pop, yet his father refuses to revisit this personal trauma. Neither enlistment or basic training or a Purple Heart qualifies Elliot to enter his father’s inner world, and takes his mother Ginny (Jenny Weaver) to pony up the musty old letters that reveal the jungle and the desert are very similar places for a young warrior. Without ever stating it explicitly, all three take the same journey. They left Puerto Rico to find the shining city of American assimilation, only to have their children repeat the trip. Each story is unique, and yet identical – the infantryman’s lot changes little and no matter how open America is, there’s always new minority knocking on the door.
Kutner’s Elliot never questioned the war or his decision to enlist, but rather he projects the smug attitude of an 18 year-old’s invincibility that makes him seem a real soldier. What binds these stories and this family is Ginny’s earthiness. She may be Elliot’s mom, but when she’s nursing Pop back from a shrapnel wound, she drips a super charged sexual tension. Corny as it sounds, I see the family as Earth (Ginny), Air (George Sr.), Fire (Elliot) and Water (Pop). It’s an old model, but one from which Ms. Hudes built a universe we all might find ourselves occupying. Every motion is razor sharp, and when emotion fails, you always have High Ideals to keep you going forward.
Like Mad Cow’s drum pounding Major Barbara next door, this show is never expressly antiwar. It accepts deadly conflict as part of the human condition, but shows it can be a rugged ladder to a higher good. Elliot and his clan accept the chance random death or mutilation and exploit Heroism to gain acceptance in the larger world. Everything can be endured, as long as you find acceptance on one level or another.
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