By Keri Tombazian
The Mark Taper Forum has much to be proud of as it wraps up its 50th year of excellent theatre in Los Angeles. From the acclaimed kick-off revival of Zoot Suit, which originated at the Taper in 1978, to the startling mid-season masterpiece, Archduke, to Phylicia Rashad’s once-in-a-lifetime triumph of performance in Head of Passes, it has been an ambitious year. Rounding out the journey, the season concludes with Water By The Spoonful: Part II of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Quiara Alegría Hudes’ “Elliot” trilogy.
The Center Theatre Group has teamed up with the Latino Theater Company to present a never-before one-city concurrent run of all three plays (The Happiest Song Plays Last opens February 17th at the Los Angeles Theatre Center) – an undertaking worthy of CTG’s history of amplifying theatre in L.A.
Running at the Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre is Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue. In this first play of the trilogy, Hudes uses imagery, poetry, and themes of Bach’s preludes and fugues to tell the story of three generations of a Puerto Rican American family of war veterans: the grandfather a veteran of the Korean War, the father a veteran of the Vietnam War, and Elliot, the veteran son caught in the chaos of the Iraqi War. The show fits well in CTG’s black box of mostly experimental, often non-linear story telling. Terrific cast.
Water By the Spoonful at the Taper, picks up Elliot (Sean Carvajal) returned to his home in Philly, struggling to kick-start his life after suffering the ravages of war. While A Soldier’s Fugue focuses on soldiers at war both internally and in-theater, Water By The Spoonful wrestles with drug addiction, familial bonds—both broken and kept—the healing kindness of strangers, the desire for home. Carvajal is earnest and true as he battles his own demons.
Hudes uses the winning convention of an Internet chat room for recovering crack addicts to bring Odessa/Haikumom (Luna Lauren Vélez), Orangutan (Sylvia Kwan), and Chutes & Ladders (Bernard K. Addison) downstage in a well-woven conversation of struggle and support. Hudes’ dialogue is sharp, funny, and on-point; and Vélez, Kwan, and Addison play like a band of musicians who have been together for ages. As the interloping newest visitor to the chat-room, Fountainhead, Josh Braaten is charming and in the end – changed; nicely done.
While A Soldier’s Fugue employs classical themes of Bach, Water By The Spoonful uses Jazz, specifically, the jazz of John Coltrane.
Elliot’s professor cousin, Yazmin (Keren Lugo) has a terrific monologue in which the genius of Coltrane’s dissonance is explained in the most accessible terms even to the non initiated– while also shadowing the dissonance unfolding in Elliot’s broken family. Kudos to Lugo, who went on to perform after the show was held just twenty minutes into Act I due to illness. An unfortunate turn on opening night, but she made it through until curtain. Still, the interruption infected the flow of the show; and it is impossible to say if the feeling of disconnection between the stories was because of that blip, or if Director Lileana Blain-Cruz intended such long transitions between scenes. Such is live theatre, and while the opening night, reviewed performance was bumpy, Hudes’ stories are worth the telling and worth taking in.
Water By The Spoonful runs now through March 11th at the Mark Taper Forum. Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue closes February 25th, and The Happiest Song Plays Last runs February 17th – March 19th, 2018. See all three.
Get tickets HERE.