Theater archives

Purple Heartbeat


“The fugue,” Grandpop explains, “is like an argument. It starts in one voice. Another voice creeps up on the first one. Voice two responds to voice one. They tangle together. They argue, they become messy. . . . You think, good God, they’ll never untie themselves.” Quiara Alegría Hudes constructs her affecting drama Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue along those same lines, as dictated by Bach. Three generations of Ortiz men and women narrate their experiences in the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq wars—their voices twining and snarling as they recollect.

Elliot, the youngest, entered Iraq just after his 18th birthday and soon found himself home with a Purple Heart and an injured leg, one of the 20,000-odd American soldiers wounded in Iraq. Elliot must decide if he’ll return to Iraq for a second tour of duty or stay in North Philly and work at Subway. He doesn’t express much interest in the purpose of the war. When a radio interviewer asks if the troops support it, Elliot scoffs, “Politics, nobody cares about that.”

Indeed, Hudes snubs the political for the personal at nearly every turn, bestowing her considerable talents on precise evocations of each character’s desires, terrors, and daily routines. Also a composer, Hudes writes with considerable attention to rhythm, allowing rap, military chants, and classical preludes to fill the spaces between words. If her metaphors occasionally seem a bit cumbersome or monologues protracted, her ability to realize character and to craft scenes for multiple voices is extraordinary. Elliot, and any other war veteran, should be grateful for such an articulate and tender advocate.