Theatreworks’ ‘Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue’ is an unexpected but effective look at war

4.5 out of 5 stars 

     Theatreworks’ production of “Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue,” directed by Julio Agustìn and written by Quiara Alegrìa Hudes, takes a deep look at the intergenerational impact of war, but there were moments when audience members could get lost in the structure of the story.  

     Overall, the play follows the military service of a young Puerto Rican soldier named Elliot serving in Iraq, as well as the service of his parents and grandfather before him in Vietnam and South Korea respectively.  

     The delineation of a “fugue,” a classical music style in which a melodic theme is introduced and then developed by several interweaving voices, describes the way the characters build simultaneous scenes onstage that show the different experiences of Elliot, his pop and his grandpop while driving home their similarities. 

     The overlapping dialogue and interwoven blocking seamlessly tied the characters together and they each carefully surrendered the scene and the stage to each other in the moments of shifting point of view.   

     Elliot himself, portrayed by Luis Sebastiàn Borges, had an extraordinary presence from the moment he strutted onto stage in nothing but a towel, flirting with the audience and using every single movement with the intention of establishing himself as a goofy young man who was about to grow up.  

     His work was so convincing that the eye was drawn to him even as he lay on the ground after being tangled in barbed wire, dragging himself slowly and methodically across the stage in such a way that I almost feel the wire in my own leg from where I sat.  

     Chelley Canales, portraying Elliot’s mother Ginny committed fully and believably to her role, but I felt that some smaller, slower moments in a soliloquy she performed would have created more of a contrast in the dynamics of that scene.  

     A sand-covered set surrounded by the bright green of plants and dotted here and there with a cot, boxes of supplies and crooked mirror frames made for a simple but beautiful image. It became a slate for the actors to transform into Iraq, Vietnam, Korea or Philadelphia.  

     The lighting was possibly my favorite element of the show because it worked with the set to transform the location.  

     Orange light from all sides and smoke turned the stage into a desert, blue light focused on a corner of the stage turned it into the place where Elliot’s parents fell in love at night in a Vietnam camp. A single spotlight aimed at Elliot accompanied the focus and judgment of a television host asking him to speak about his experience without profanity.  

     Music is also a huge theme in the show, from Grandpop playing cheering his fellow soldiers with Bach on the flute to Elliot’s rap over his headphones. Puerto Rican beats are also infused throughout the scenes, bringing the origin of the characters into their circumstances and contributing to the mix of sounds that is used to describe their lives.  

     While all of the acting and technical elements were seamless in service to the script, the fugue structure was unexpected enough to sometimes create a little difficulty in following what was happening.  

     By the end of the show, I felt I had a good understanding of each character and how their experiences built on each other, but there were moments when I wished I could have seen more of one character, particularly Elliot’s Grandpop in Korea. Since the focus shifted so much, it was hard at times to connect to one character in the moment.  

     It was a hard sell to pull off, but the entire ensemble did pull it off to effectively to portray the difficult theme of war. 

“Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue” rehearsals. Photo by Isaiah Downing.