Hollywood Fringe 2017
A murder mystery exploring the complicated feelings that some African Americans have toward one another, and the ways in which many black Americans have absorbed white racist attitudes.
A black sergeant cries out in the night, “They still hate you,” then is shot twice by an unseen killer. Set in 1944 at a segregated army camp in Louisiana, Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama tracks the investigation of this murder. But “A Soldier’s Play” is more than a detective story: it is a tough, incisive exploration of racial tensions among blacks and between blacks and whites that gives no easy answers and assigns no simple blame.
Captain Richard Davenport (Dominic Daniel), a rare black Army officer, has been sent to investigate the killing of Sgt. Waters (Victor Isaac, who also directs). Capt. Taylor (a terrific Mike Lanahan), the white C.O., tries to discourage him because he feels the case is to be swept under the rug. Capt. Davenport perseveres and probes deeper. Initially, the primary suspects are local Ku Klux Klan. Later, bigoted white soldiers fall under suspicion. Ultimately, Davenport discovers the killer. Each suspect had their own motive for the killing. As Davenport interviews witnesses and suspects, we see flashbacks showing how Sergeant Waters treated his men. He picks on black soldiers like outspoken Melvin Peterson (Jefferson Reid) and Private C.J. Memphis (the soulful Ryan Lacey) because he loathed “lazy, shiftless Negroes”. This angers Memphis’s friend and ally Corp. Bernard Cobb (Demetrius Butler). Waters also verbally and physically abuses the men in his charge like and Pvt. James Wilke (Rosney Mauger), Pvt. Anthony Smalls (Christopher Gardner) and Pvt. Louis Henson (Bryshan White). When Davenport solves the case, the answer to the riddle is more shocking than the murder itself.
At over ninety minutes, the pace of this riveting play never lets up. The ensemble is very solid especially the soldiers who make up company baseball team. There are terrific scenes in the barracks where the audience becomes immersed in these characters and their struggles. While there is no true standout , each performer admirably fulfills his role and a credible world is created. Filling out the rest of the cast are Tyler Fairbank (Cpt.Wilcox), Lt. Byrd (Austin Springer) and Gabriel Croom as Cpl. Ellis.
The preview performance I saw was still dealing with some lighting issues which, I’m sure, will be worked out as performances continue. Overall, I was impressed to not only see this difficult piece mounted at the Fringe but to see these artists pull off a terrific production. SCOTT GOLDEN