The Justice Theater Project’s current production of Charles Fuller’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, A Soldier’s Play, re-titled A Soldier’s Story as a movie, ends with the words “You’ll have to get used to black people being in charge,” which became fulfilled in 2008. It also kept the play from being produced on Broadway, according to the playwright, because he refused to drop that line.
With a strong cast and excellent direction, the story is well told by The Justice Theater Project on the stage of the Umstead Park United Church of Christ in Raleigh, NC. Director Avis Hatcher-Puzzo has selected a fine ensemble of sturdy actors to portray the tale of Tech Sgt. Vernon C. Waters, who was murdered outside of Fort Neal, LA, where he commanded a platoon of African-American baseball players, whose military duty was to entertain the white troops.
The play takes place in an appropriate barracks by scenic designer Jeffrey Nugent. Nugent’s set expands out into an office on one side and a stockade cell on the other.
Called in to investigate the probability that Waters was killed by local white folks, perhaps even the KKK, Capt. Richard Davenport (TJ Swann), a Howard University-educated MP lawyer, is not well received by the white Company Commander, Capt. Charles Taylor (Brook North). The two play off against each other like a badminton match.
Christopher Neill Bailey plays Sgt. Waters (except on Oct. 27th and 28th, when he alternates with Moses T. Alexander Greene). Bailey’s voice is perfect for shouting orders, and turns fatherly gentle when he wants it to. His facial expressions reveal his character’s self-loathing, and his gymnastics are spry and muscular during fight scenes.
Pvt.1st Class Melvin Peterson was played by Moses Greene on Saturday, Oct. 14th, and will rotate with Bailey on the Oct. 27th and 28th as Sgt. Waters. As Peterson, Greene is quick to spot injustice, and feisty in his response to it. Greene brings out the leadership qualities in his character, as well his independence of spirit.
Pvt. CJ Memphis is a lovable, naive Mississippi lad whom Waters disparagingly refers to as a “geechee,” and who brings music to the quarters picking his guitar and singing. David Thomas captures the innocence of this kind and friendly man.
Dwayne Garnet plays Pvt. Wilkie — formerly Sergeant Wilkie, but Waters busted him down to Private for being drunk — as a subservient, resentful soldier, who is Waters’ lackey and errand boy.
The entire ensemble gives a well-knit, balanced performance, which accurately represents life in a military barracks, and exemplifies the strains of racial insecurity that Charles Fuller is dealing with.
The Justice Theater Project, as they say: “Creating thought-provoking, entertaining and inspiring theater since 2004,” has adopted for this season the motto “Equity and Identity.” This production kicks off their 2017-18 season.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 14th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8669; and Sept. 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article176145851.htmlStory #2.
The Justice Theater Project presents A SOLDIER’S PLAY at 8 p.m. Oct. 21, 3 p.m. Oct. 22, 8 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28, and 3 p.m. Oct. 29 Umstead Park United Church of Christ, 8208 Brownleigh Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina 27617.
TICKETS: $22 ($10 students and $17 seniors and active-duty military personnel), except $14 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-264-7089, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.etix.com/.
SHOW: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/a-soldiers-play/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/126778067948182/.
PRESENTER: http://thejusticetheaterproject.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Justice-Theater-Project/29290766458.
VENUE: http://www.upucc.org/, https://www.facebook.com/UmsteadParkUCC, and https://twitter.com/upucc.
NOTE 1: At 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21st, there be a preshow discussion with Charles Knight, military curator of the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.
NOTE 2: SeedArtShare of Garner will provide FREE childcare for potty-trained children during the show’s 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22nd, performance.
A Soldier’s Play (1981 Off-Broadway play): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2265/soldiers-play-a (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/1289 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Soldier%27s_Play (Wikipedia).
The Script: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Charles Fuller (Philadelphia, PA-born African-American playwright and screenwriter): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2265/soldiers-play-a (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/4638 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/charles-fuller-111631 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0298191/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Fuller (Wikipedia).
Avis Hatcher-Puzzo (Raleigh, NC director and associate professor of dance at Fayetteville State University): http://www.uncfsu.edu/arts/faculty-and-staff/avis-hatcher-puzzo (FSU bio) and https://www.facebook.com/avis.hatcherpuzzo (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Amazon.com. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.