Addison — The next production at WaterTower Theatre is Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue by Quiara Alegría Hudes. This is the first play of the Elliot Trilogy, which includes Pulitzer Prize winner Water by the Spoonful and The Happiest Song Plays Last. In Fugue, Hudes looks at the personal cost of war across the ages, spanning three generations of a Puerto Rican-American family. Elliot is a Marine Corps hero back from Iraq, his Pop was wounded in Vietnam, and his flute-playing Grandpop fought in Korea.
Local actor Chris Ramirez plays the title role in this production, directed by David Lozano. The cast also features David Lugo, Gloria Vivica Benavides, and Rodney Garza. TheaterJones chatted with Ramirez to discuss Elliot’s military history, and the notion of an actor of Mexican heritage playing a Puerto Rican character.
TheaterJones: How has the rehearsal process been for you on this project? Were you familiar with the lives of soldiers or have a military background?
Chris Ramieriz: It’s a beautiful piece and a very challenging one. [I’ve been] trying to get into the mindset of a marine and trying to understand that line of thinking. That world is so different from anything I’ve experienced in my life.
I did not grow up with military in my family. So, I’ve done a lot of research and watched a lot of interviews with veterans. With all of that, I’m stunned. It really makes me sit back and think about how I feel about war, the military, and our veterans.
I’ve heard some really powerful stories and, quite frankly, scary stories of a certain mentality soldiers had to have when they went to war. These stories were about things soldiers believed and things they did while they were fighting and how those things have haunted them when they came back home.
[I was pulled in by] the amount of guilt and questions in a soldier’s mind when they come home. They ask, “Am I a killer? Am I a mercenary? A soldier?” I would not have known all of that if I wasn’t in the show. I know it’s so cliché to say, but this show and the research I’ve done has been life-changing.
Were you familiar with this play or the Trilogy before you started working on the play?
No, it was a weird circumstance because I got an email in March of last year from WaterTower. They said that they were looking at their season and they wanted to go ahead and pre-cast some roles. Then, they said that they wanted me to play Elliot and asked if I would look into that. I said, “Yes of course. That’s a long way from now but I’m flattered that you’re asking.”
I knew Water by the Spoonful because that’s the most well known work of hers, you could argue. Then, I found out that it was all a part of the trilogy. Quiara is such an incredible writer. Each play gives a lot of insight.
My favorite thing about this trilogy is that…we see sequels in movies all the time, but we hardly ever see that in theatre. I think that is so cool to read Water by the Spoonful and see Elliot cross over. It’s cool to hear him talk about his mom and dad and see how much he changes. It’s so exciting that an artist is bringing that storytelling to the theatre world.
While you are Latino, your specific cultural heritage is Mexican. Since Elliot and his family are of Puerto Rican descent, did you do anything in your performance to represent that difference?
Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, we’re similar and different at the same time. Mexicans for the most part can be very reserved and keep to themselves in situations. Puerto Rican culture is so lively and so Caribbean and so outgoing. I really wanted to make sure that I respected that as a culture. I thought of my good friends who are Puerto Rican and I thought how would they approach this with their fun-loving and buoyant personalities.
Our Spanish dialect is vastly different from Puerto Ricans; they have a very different accent than we do. So, that was definitely a challenge not just for me, but for the rest of the cast. We looked at all of our Spanish phrases and made sure we were doing them with a Puerto Rican accent and not a Mexican accent. It’s always so cool to get to do research and look into other cultures of Latin America and Latinos. It’s been a blast for me. My knowledge is growing in our people.
Why do you believe Elliot is an important play to produce at this moment?
That’s something we discussed in rehearsal. The timing couldn’t be more perfect with the victims of the Puerto Rico hurricanes and what they are having to deal with. The characters in Elliot, this family, all have something in common. Yes, they were all in the military, but most important they all have wounds and I’m not sure they know how to heal those wounds.
Specifically the men. Because they go to war, they have a certain mentality and then they choose not to talk about it when they get home. They carry those wounds with them. And as generations go on the question becomes, “Would talking about it help heal those wounds for themselves and their offspring?”
Hopefully we can learn a lesson from that at how communication and being vulnerable can advance things. A lot of people don’t know that [a percentage] of our military for the past 60 years has come from Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans fighting for our country and dealing with discrimination like, “Oh they’re not really Americans.” These young 18 and 19 year olds are getting shipped to war are fighting for our country and not getting recognition for it. Now is a good time to look at them and say, “They have been fighting and dying for us for a long time and it’s about time we give them that recognition.”
» Below is a schedule of special performances and talk-backs in WaterTowers Intersections initiative for Elliot:
February 8 – ASL-Interpreted Performance
As part of WaterTower’s commitment to creating accessible theatre for all communities, we’re proud to offer a sign-interpreted performance of Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue.
February 9 – MILITARY CODE – A Conversation with Veterans
We’re honored to host a post-show conversation with a small panel of local veterans discussing their decision to serve our country, and what the experience of returning home is like.
February 17 – LA EXPERIENCIA LATINA – A Conversation about Creating Theatre for the LatinX Community.
Leaders of local LatinX theatre companies join us for a post-show conversation about their experience creating theatre for the LatinX community, and why they’ve committed themselves to Dallas-Fort Worth.
February 18 – LIKE AN ARGUMENT - A Live Musical Demonstration of a Fugue
Local musicians Kate Flum (Flute) and Matt Emanuelson (Bassoon) will perform the Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6 for Flute and Bassoon, as well as an arrangement of a Bach Fugue. The performance will be followed by a brief discussion/Q&A.
In addition to the above post-performance discussions and panels, WTT will host Conversations with the Artists, a post-show conversation with members of the cast of Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue discussing the themes of the play, the rehearsal process, and what it’s been like diving into this poetic and powerful story.
January 31 – Conversation with the Artists
February 4 – Conversation with the Artists
February 7 – Conversation with the Artists
February 11 – Conversation with the Artists
February 14 – Conversation with the Artists
In the spirit of WaterTower Theatre’s mission to build community through fostering empathy and dialogue, WaterTower announces its new community engagement programming, aptly titled Intersections, as this programming is constantly exploring where our artistic work intersects with our larger community.
Intersections has two primary objectives: The first is focused on providing all of our audience members a deeper look into the artistic work on our stages, offering more context while making our work even more relevant in the lives of our audience. The second is cultivating authentic artistic exchanges across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, with the belief that the themes and human stories we put on our stages will resonate throughout the community.