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The Cast of 'Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue' Opens Up

A Q+A with the Players

#4152

L-R: Cast members Jason Manuel Olazábal, Peter Mendoza, Caro Zeller, Rubén Garfias and director Shishir Kurup. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

The cast members of Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue (onstage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through February 25, 2018) took time out from their performance schedule to discuss their inspiration, the wonder of playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, and the joy of working with this company and crew.

L-R: (below) Caro Zeller, Rubén Garfias, Jason Manuel Olazábal, and (above) Peter Mendoza. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

RUBÉN GARFIAS, GRANDPOP

I surround myself with people who commit themselves to the pursuit of excellence.

Center Theatre Group: What inspires you?
Rubén Garfias: Aside from my family, which provides a constant source of inspiration, the work that I do. I surround myself with people who commit themselves to the pursuit of excellence no matter what obstacles they have to overcome. That rare ability to surmount all odds when resources are limited is so much fun to be around.
How did you prepare for the role of Grandpop?
As with every role, with a ton of questions and a lot of homework. Rehearsals are essential for discovery, mistakes, trial and error, going too far and then pulling back until all the ingredients begin to take shape.
What is special about this cast and crew?
It’s a pleasure and a joy to be a part of this incredibly talented, professional, friendly cast. They are serious in their approach, dedicated to story, quick with their sense of humor, and totally focused on exploring all possibilities. I don’t notice the time going by. The crew is also a dream—the heart, vision, dedication, and love for what they do can be felt in the final execution of this production.

PETER MENDOZA, ELLIOT

It's exciting to be a Latino right now. The call for diversity is so strong. Our voices are being heard.

Center Theatre Group: What inspires you?
Peter Mendoza: Fear. I never wanted fear or my environment to determine who I will be. That responsibility lies with me. I give myself the chance to take a risk on something bigger than myself and know that I can live an extraordinary life as an actor. My late mother, Rachel Reyes, always believed God had something special for me, and I never wanted to let her down. She took in four children out of the kindness of her heart and raised them to believe they could achieve great things. I am here because of her and I know I will make it because of her.
What's your relationship to Quiara Alegría Hudes' work?
I first encountered Quiara’s work in college. I read Water by the Spoonful and thought the poetry of the language was great. Then a couple of years later, while I was an understudy in Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum, I remember reading Water by the Spoonful again in the green room while Zoot Suit was playing. I also auditioned for the movie version of In the Heights. I just found it very funny; it seemed like Quiara was on my back, and I couldn't shake her. When I finally got my hands on Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue, I was mesmerized. The sheer beauty and musicality of her writing was so powerful. I knew this was what I needed to do. It was fate.
Tell me about being a rising young Latino actor in Los Angeles?
It's exciting to be a Latino right now. The call for diversity is so strong. Our voices are being heard. We are no longer settling for stereotypes but calling for opportunities to be a part of great stories that don't have to do with race but ability. It’s going to be great to see what happens.

CARO ZELLER, GINNY

I see in Ginny my mother and grandmother, and all my aunts, the women who raised me.

Center Theatre Group: What inspires you?
Caro Zeller: I look to nature for inspiration. Growing up in Puerto Rico and moving to L.A., the differences in the natural world and sounds of each place are a reminder of how varied we are as people. Different things thrive in different places and different characters ask for a different part of who we are.
What’s your relationship to Quiara Alegría Hudes’ work?
Every time I read one of Quiara’s plays I have a physical reaction to it. It’s like she transports me back to my family. And family is the reason why I do this. Playing Yaz in Water by the Spoonful was my first experience working on a play by Quiara. This is when I first realized how much music is in her language, in the writing, in the story, in all her work. Elliot is a fugue, and we are the instruments. Playing Ginny is a very unique experience for me. I seldom am asked to play a role that is so close to my personal life. I see in Ginny my mother and grandmother, and all my aunts, the women who raised me. I get to take them onstage with me and share who I am because of them.
What is special about this cast and crew?
Collaborating and learning from the entire cast and crew has been a real honor. We became a family that needed to tell a story together. In the beginning we had no idea how that was going to happen, but as the first week progressed we soon realized we had created a vocabulary for ourselves and the pieces started to come together. It's also a room with some really funny, witty, and charming people, which includes our crew. Gotta love a crew that dances with you!

JASON MANUEL OLAZÁBAL, POP

To be moved emotionally, in whatever way that manifests itself, is a gift.

Center Theatre Group: What inspires you?
Jason Manuel Olazábal: I try to find inspiration in everything around me—the people I'm with, the places I've seen, the books I've read. Basically, I’m inspired by whatever I can use to help me deepen a connection and strengthen a bond. That goes for the characters I play and hopefully for the person that I am.
How did you prepare for the role of Pop?
Vietnam was the main focus of my research. I was up to my neck in books and documentaries. I needed to learn as much as I could so that I could start to breathe life into what would ultimately become my Pop.
What do you hope audiences take away from Elliot?
What I wish most for our audiences is to feel something—to be moved by a character, a line, or an image onstage. That is what I find so special about the theatre. To be moved emotionally, in whatever way that manifests itself, is a gift. Being part of this team gives me great pride because of what we have accomplished and continue to accomplish. I have been a fan of Quiara's work for quite a while. To say that I am overjoyed to now be a part of it would be an understatement.
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