LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – “A Soldier’s Play” hits you the way a Mike Tyson right uppercut would. It’s raw. It’s explosive. It penetrates. It comes out of nowhere with the full intention of taking you out of your comfort zone into a space of the unknown.
Tyson’s lethal uppercut shots when the former heavyweight boxer became champion of the world, would obliterate his opponents. The scathing dialogue in “A Soldier’s Play” would probably match what Tyson did in the ring.
What the late playwright Charles Fuller was able to do when he brought “A Soldier’s Play” to life in 1982 before it was later turned into a stirring big screen film called “A Soldier’s Story,” starring Howard Rollins Jr., Adolph Caesar, and Denzel Washington, was create an unapologetic powerful take on Black men as soldiers.
The task of making “A Soldier’s Play” work and relevant today has been charged to Kenny Leon, the production’s director. Leon has taken the baton from Fuller and has hit the finish line with a closeout flurry with his take on “A Soldier’s Play.” “A Soldier’s Play” has been billed and hyped to be that production that is a must-see.
There’s a strong reason behind that. If you have sensitive ears then “A Soldier’s Play” is not for you. This is not a show to see for the faint of heart. Playing at the Ahmanson Theatre (Center Theatre Group) through June 23, “A Solder’s Play” brings the heat during many of its conversational scenes. That’s what’s good about it.
“A Soldier’s Play” is good old-fashioned storytelling. Perhaps the best thing about the Tony Award-winning production is that each of the characters makes you feel what they are going through.
Set in 1944 on a Louisiana Army base, “A Soldier’s Play” has a plethora of topics it tries to address. Fuller, and later Leon, do a masterful job of somehow bridging the murder of a top-ranked Black soldier into an incredibly compelling whodunit mystery.
Without going into full-blown spoiler alert, both the protagonist and hero are given an A grade for their performances. Norm Lewis, the first Black man to play Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera,” takes over the leading role as Capt. Richard Davenport.
It is Davenport’s responsibility to investigate the murder of Sgt. Vernon C. Waters (Eugene Lee) just outside an all-Black infantry unit. Lewis looms as an imposing presence as Capt. Davenport. A man of self-professed discipline, Capt. Davenport is stern and unshakable in his approach to investigating the death of Sgt. Waters. Capt.
Davenport has a no BS meter that seems to be running at all hours of the day. With a host of credits under his belt-on stage as well on the big screen-Lewis swallows up the stage as Capt. Davenport. Without question, Lewis is the man for the role of Capt. Davenport. But he has an equal in Lee. If there is one word to best describe Lee’s sensational portrayal of Sgt. Waters, it would be ferocious.
Sgt. Waters is a bully. He degrades them and constantly humiliates the soldiers under his command. He pushes his men into near mutiny against him, even going to the length of educating them on who is and who is not fit to be part of the Negro race. It is such degradation that pits Sgt. Waters at odds with his men, especially with Pvt. First Class Melvin Peterson (Tarik Lowe).
Lee’s rapid-fire tongue-whipping of his soldiers eventually draws the ire of his men. And since Sgt. Waters is reviled, this leads to everybody under his watch automatically being hit with the suspect tag. Lee is brilliant as Sgt. Waters. He commands the stage with his villainous and self-righteous ways as well as Lewis does as Capt. Davenport.
In a way, both Capt. Davenport and Sgt. Waters are one of the same, except they are on opposite sides of the fence. They are both Black men serving in the U.S. military with the country’s in-your-face racism serving as a backdrop to this drama-laden tale.
Both men believe in justice, except Sgt. Waters’ way of that seems predestined on ridding the Negro race of individuals who do not represent Black America in the way he thinks they should. “A Soldier’s Play” is electric all the way through.
Like one of Tyson’s famous flurries, “A Soldier’s Play” moves at an extremely fast pace. The stinging dialogue sometimes hits you right in the gut. There are no punches pulled. This is what makes the show must-see.
Photo caption for the featured Image shown at the top of the story. The Company of the National Tour of “A Soldier’s Play” playing at Center Theatre Group / Ahmanson Theatre May 23 through June 25, 2023.
Photo by Joan Marcus
Dennis has covered and written about politics, crime, social justice, sports, and entertainment. Dennis currently covers the NFL, MLB, NBA, NCAA, and Olympic sports. Dennis is the editor of News4usonline.com and serves as the publisher of the Compton Bulletin newspaper. He earned a journalism degree from Howard University.