A soldier's past, missing drama in the present

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There’s someone missing in a scene near the end of Quiara Alegría Hudes' play "Eliott, A Soldier's Fugue."

Elliott, a nineteen year-old combat vet back home between tours of duty in Iraq, is finally going to confront his dad. Ever since he came home nursing a purple heart leg injury, he's been trying to get his dad to open up. Elliott needs to know if his dad's time in Vietnam was anything like the horror he just experienced in Iraq.

Service runs deep in this Puerto Rican family: besides his dad, his granddad served in Korea, even his mom was an army nurse in Vietnam. Generation after generation, that's what's shaped and scarred this family.

Finally, on the night before Elliott gets back on a plane to Iraq, he hatches a plan.

He's going to get his dad drunk, loosen him up a bit, and then straight up confront him. It's profound because it's not just about a need to know his dad's story - it's also the need to tell his own.

Sounds dramatic, right?

And it is ... sort of.

There's one element missing from the scene as Ms. Hudes writes it - Elliott's dad. He's in the play, he's one of the four actors we meet along with Elliott's mom and grand dad - he's just not in this scene.

Instead, we get Elliott recounting what happened without his dad present. So in the climax of the scene where his dad knocks him to the ground: we see the actor falling backwards with no father in sight.

There's a play where that's a profoundly moving metaphoric choice: where the absence of the father from the scene is a symbol of how war robs us, how those experiences in Vietnam stole a man from his family.

That's not this play. In this play, I wanted to see this scene between father and son. I longed for the painful silence where a father's love for his boy is eclipsed by his own pain. Where it's easier for a man to knock his injured child to the ground rather than confront his own demons.

That's not "Elliott, A Soldier's Fugue"

And that scene tells you a lot about the whole 75 minute play. There's a lot of drama in the story of this family of soldiers but very little of it happens onstage. Instead, this is more like a 4 person short-story that vividly captures these experiences of the past. Somewhat ironically, for a play about a family's hidden stories, the whole play is about revealing them to the audience. Elliott hasn't heard his dad's trauma's -- but we have.

That leaves us as witnesses to an incomplete past rather than watching a dramatic struggle in the present.

"Elliott, A Soldier's Fugue " plays at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City through February 25th.

Ms. Hudes’ other two plays in this trilogy are being produced at the Mark Taper Forum and the Latino Theater Company.

"Water by the Spoonful" plays at the Mark Taper Forum downtown through March 11th.  And "The Happiest Song Plays Last" opens at the LATC downtown on February 22nd and plays through March 19th.

L-R: Peter Mendoza, Rubén Garfias and Jason Manuel Olazábal in “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz.