Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: MARCH 26, 2010
While the country is embroiled in wars on two fronts, along comes ion theatre, with a double-barreled attack on war itself. The gutsy, spirited little company is inaugurating its newly refurbished Hillcrest space with “An American Duet,” a pair of short political plays that might, at moments, make you cringe – and will, most certainly, make you think.
“Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” is true to its musical name; one central theme is repeated, in counterpoint, in different voices. It’s a tricky dramatic construction, and with an inspired cast, first-time director Sylvia Enrique does a masterful job of interweaving these stories of three generations of Puerto Rican-American veterans. The play is part memory, part reverie, part post-traumatic flashback.
Nineteen year-old Elliot Ortiz is just back from Iraq , having followed in the Marine marching footsteps of his Pop, who fought in Vietnam , and his Grandpop , who served in Korea . The war experience has taken a toll on his family. But instead of talking about it, his elders clam up, or retreat internally. Elliot has come home wounded, with a Purple Heart. He’s thinking about returning for another tour in Iraq . No one wants him to go, but they won’t come right out and say so.
A finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, “Elliot” was written by Quiara Alegría Hudes when she was 28 years old. The Yale graduate of Jewish-Puerto Rican descent went on to write the book for the Tony Award-winning musical, “In the Heights.” The memories in her poignant, poetic play are sometimes fierce, sometimes tender. The horrors of the first kill; searching for comrades’ body parts; sustaining an excruciating injury. But there are also gentle recollections: of playing Bach flute sonatas for the platoon, or meeting your true love in a military hospital. The contrapuntal structure creates a universal soldier’s story, about fathers and sons, connection and isolation, and history repeating itself, on the grand and the intimate scale.
The companion piece is “Back of the Throat,” a reference to the accurate pronunciation of an Arabic name, Khaled . The young man who bears that name, is an unassuming Arab-American writer who’s visited by a couple of uninvited, unidentified government agents after an unnamed terrorist attack. Written in 2004 by Egypt-born, Seattle-based playwright Yussef El Guindi , the intense one-act is a post-9/11 nightmare, about anxiety and paranoia, racial profiling and interrogation without justification. How personal rights can be subordinated to insinuation and intimidation. What starts out casual, affable and even amusing becomes increasingly ominous and ultimately, ambiguous. Under the direction of Sara Beth Morgan , an excellent cast insistently heightens the intensity and suspense, leaving us emotionally drained and intellectually exhilarated.
Here’s a unique opportunity to engage your brain and see the world through someone else’s eyes. A gripping experience, well worth pursuing… times two.
The two plays of ion theatre’s ‘American Duet’ runs in repertory through April 17 at The BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn, on the edge of Hillcrest.
©2010 PAT LAUNER