Breaking the silence of three generations of war

War drags on in the Gulf. Every day young men and women come back from the fight and return to it, an odd kind of human tide that we have a tendency to forget. It’s a tide controlled not by heavenly bodies, but by the whims and stratagems of decorated men. There seems to be nothing we can do about it besides answer polls, make signs and write letters to our Congress members. In the midst of this soldiers are lost in certain anonymity, except in the unfortunate occurrence of their death, in which case they will be eulogized in “remembrances” on NPR and other news media. What about those who survive once the war has ended?


This question is what makes the Miracle Theatre production of “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” so timely and important. Focusing on three generations of a family of soldiers, this astute drama, written by Quiara Alegria Hudes and directed by Olga Sanchez, brings to light the shared and personal experiences of war and coming home. As we watch we are pulled through the grit and terror of three U.S. wars (Korea, Vietnam and Iraq) and come to understand the toll of service as one Puerto Rican family tells its story through a series of soliloquies and letters. 


One would imagine that a story told almost strictly through soliloquy might be difficult to pull off, especially when considering the weight of the subject matter addressed by Elliot. Nevertheless, with engaging writing from Hudes and notable acting from John San Nicolas as Elliot and Mario Alanzo as Pop, the Miracle cast and crew have created an engaging performance. We are allowed to enter the conflict but are never preached at. We see the damage done, but are allowed to come to our own conclusions about it.


What is striking is that the family members Elliot, Ginny, Pop and Grandpop, never really have any significant dialogue with one another. When it does occur between Ginny, a field nurse in Vietnam, and Pop, a wounded infantryman she will come to marry, it is a moment from the past that is clouded by that distance. This creates a sense of alienation between the family. We see the difficulty of speaking about the experience of war, even with those closest to you.


We are shown in “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” how war has changed, but we also see what remains common despite the various reasons the family members have served: the experience of killing, the fear of admitting it, the monotony and craziness, the rituals that are built to cope with the stress both at home and abroad. These commonalities and changes are layered and overlapped; they intertwine and echo each other. GrandPop, who plays a flute for his comrades during the Korean War, explains that this overlapping and entwining is the structure of a fugue and that it is less about how the different parts become entwined, but how they are taken apart and resolved.


When considering that Elliot was written in the manner of a fugue, I am not sure we are ever allowed that resolution. True, as the lights come down we are left with a lingering emotional note, but it is up to us to find its resonance in the world outside the theater.


“Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” runs until October 15 at The Miracle Theatre on 525 S.E. Stark St., Portland. Call 503-236-7253 for tickets.