Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue: Points and Counterpoints at Main Street Theater

Telling war stories and their codas.
Telling war stories and their codas. Photo by Bryan Kaplun
A fugue is defined as a short melody or phrase introduced in one part and then taken up by the following parts, all woven together. It is also defined as a state of loss of a person's identity, sometimes accompanied by a departure from a person's usual environment.

Both definitions seem to apply in Quiara Alegría Hudes's Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue about to go on stage at Main Street Theater. It's 2003 and Elliot, a U.S. Marine has returned to his Philadelphia home from the Iraq War injured in body and mind. He's the third generation of his family to go off to war — his father was in the Vietnam War and his grandfather in the Korean War. His mother, Ginny, had been a nurse in the Vietnam War.

Elliot is the first part of a trilogy about to start on three separate stages in Houston. The second part, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Water by the Spoonful, opens at Stages on February 7. The third part, The Happiest Song Plays Last, will be given several reading performances by Mildred's Umbrella on March 6-8. Main Street Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden, who had the idea for the partnership among the three theater companies, is directing Elliot.  (No one has to worry if they can't see all three; each play stands alone on its own merits.)

Gerardo Velasquez plays Elliot (he had participated in an earlier reading of the play) and it was especially important for him to do so, he says, because he has an older brother in the military who went to Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition he has a great deal of respect for playwright Hudes (In the Heights). "The way she builds these scenes up and the way that the characters kind of narrate each other. I thought that was really beautiful, had a really nice cadence to it. The complexity that she brought to each of the characters, especially because it was a full Latino cast. It was interesting to see these real human beings being portrayed through the story. They all kind of have their flaws and it's really interesting to see that kind of depth. "

The older generations' stories ( Luis Galindo, Pamela Garcia Langton and Rhett Martinez are also in the cast) are told in flashbacks and as it turns out grandfather, father and son have some real similarities in their war experiences. Despite this, they still have trouble talking with each other. "That's kind of the tragedy of the show," Velasquez says. "Although they have this opportunity to bridge a gap and talk to each other about these things,they just can't find it in themselves to open up."

A product of Mayde Creek High School in Katy ISD who went on to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood, Velasquez says he really fell into theater when he accompanied a friend to an audition in high school and was encouraged to audition himself. At the time he was really involved in sports but he says he was surprised by the sense of family he had in theater. "It was just so inclusive and welcoming. It gave me this outlet to tell all the kind of stories I wanted to tell.

"Once you get on stage you have this opportunity to tell these in-depth stories and  you’re celebrated for letting out all this emotion and you're celebrated for being open and vulnerable and that's something that really stuck with me and made me really want to do theater."

Describing the one-act Elliot,  Velasquez says: "It’s kind of like an IV drip of information. You start out with a bit of mystery in terms of the main character coming home from war. You don't really know why he's home. Then you start to figure out more and more that he's been injured and he wasnts to know more about his dad's story. And then you hear about his dad's story and his grandfather's."

Asked why people should attend, Velasquez says:

"it’s such a unique play. it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s a look into a very specific story that tells a universal tale. A story about a Puerto Rican family from north Philly that is three generations of veterans.  It just has such a powerful message. I think people need to come see it because it's really going to open their hearts."

Performances are scheduled for February 8 through March 1 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. at Main Street Theater-Rice Village, 2540 Time Boulevard. For information, call 713-524-6706 or visit $36-$55.

Audience members are encouraged to attend MST’s Part of the Art Series free post-show discussion on Sunday, February 23 with Sandylane Oquendo, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Retired, HUD Certified counselor and Home Ownership Promotion & Preservation Program Manager with the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, and Osvaldo Gelpi, SSG Retired US Army, advocate for Puerto Rican Veteran benefits in the island. Even if patrons are not attending the performance that day, they are welcome to come to the free discussion starting around 4:15 p.m.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing