By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
There are parallel relationships among the officers and enlisted men in A Soldier's Play, the first production by the new African American Repertory Theater company founded by veteran actress Irma P. Hall. The troupe is in residence at DeSoto's Corner Theater, where they will produce three more shows over the next seven months.
Fuller's two-act procedural drama (adapted for film as A Soldier's Story in 1984) is set in a segregated army unit stationed in Louisiana in 1943. The soldiers, many of them former pros from the Negro Leagues, play ball on the camp team but itch to see combat to prove that "colored boys can fight Hitler" too. When their black drill sergeant is murdered, suspicion falls on local white thugs. But blatant racism on the base, including the black-on-black kind, proves to be more dangerous than the Klan.
Director William Earl Ray has put together a dynamic cast, and he also plays one of the leads, Sergeant Waters, the career NCO who zeroes in on a thickheaded Southern private named Memphis (Marcus Mauldin), hounds him as a "fool for the race to be ashamed of" and drives him to suicide. That gives the platoon plenty of motives for retaliation. The mystery to be solved by the black army lawyer (Vince McGill) sent in to interview them isn't simply who killed Waters and why. The play's real investigation delves into the depths of hatred and self-hatred carried by and toward black men.
Ray, McGill, Mauldin and the other nine actors in A Soldier's Play keep the tension high and the emotions raw. On a tiny stage in DeSoto, this new company has made a stunning debut.