The lights go down at the top of the show. As the audience quiets down, lights hit the stage – but only slightly. We only see silhouettes as the ensemble takes their positions in the solders’ barracks. Just as your eyes might begin to get used to the darkness, the singing begins. An ensemble of voices sing a capella – and the remarkable sound radiates through the space. As the song continues, the actors begin to add percussion – utilizing the furniture and floor around them as the instruments. The sound is mesmerizing – so much so, that you may almost fail to notice a man cross the top platform on the stage. The singing continues as Sergeant Vernon C. Waters stumbles and falls – clearly in some kind of altercation. The singing only stops when the two gun shots fire – leaving Waters on the ground, and the theater in pure silence.
Broadway in Chicago presents A Soldier’s Play
Written by Charles Fuller, this 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning story is set on a Louisiana Army base in 1944. When a Black sergeant is murdered (Sergeant Vernon C. Waters – Eugene Lee), Captain Richard Davenport (Norm Lewis) is brought to the scene. In order to discover the murderer, he embarks on a series of interrogations that are met with a wide range of responses – some who unsure of how to handle the orders of a Black Captain. As truths begin to bubble to the surface, all must grapple with questions around identity, sacrifice, and what it means to serve America.
With Kenny Leon at the helm and a powerhouse cast navigating the story, Fuller’s play is fast-paced and thought-provoking. With a mystery at the center, we are invited along on Davenport’s journey – wondering not only who may have committed the murder, but also, what other secrets may have been covered up in the process.
Emotionally Touching Relationships
When Davenport finds his way to the Louisiana Army Base, he is met with reactions on all sides of the spectrum. Captain Charles Taylor (William Connell) is less than pleased as a White superior. A number of the soldiers on the base, who are folks of color, are curious to finally meet a captain whose background more closely resembles their own.
When Davenport takes a seat at his desk to begin the murder investigation, Corporal Bernard Cobb (Will Adams) rushes into the room. Throughout this interaction, Corporal has acted in a way that feels strictly by the book – full of respect and understanding his rank. Davenport gives Cobb his orders – instructing him to bring each soldier one-by-one for questioning. Cobb has been still this whole time – nodding along and eager to follow instructions. Cobb is about to leave when he suddenly spins around and asks Davenport if he may speak. Upon granting him permission, Cobb noticeably relaxes and lets Davenport know how grateful he is to have met this Captain – a Black man who has risen to this higher rank. Davenport appears a bit surprised, but thanks him. Before leaving, Cobb lifts his hand for a salute.
Up until this moment, the energy between Davenport and Cobb was incredibly fast paced. The two understand that there is a lot to uncover in a short amount of time if they are to discover Waters’ murderer. However, as the two salute each other, there is pure silence and stillness. Adams and Lewis fill this moment with care – simply breathing as the scene continues for a few moments. The audience in turn is silent – clearly waiting to see what the characters will do next. Once Captain Davenport releases, Corporal Cobb immediately pivots and exits the room. The two just shared a powerful moment-- far more than words could describe—and we shared it with them.
Fuller’s play is a murder mystery – full of the high-stakes drama that any strong story in that genre should carry. We are on a dramatic train of a story that does not stop running from the moment the lights go up. However, if you’re like this writer, you will find that the relationships surrounding the piece give the story its heart. There are musical interludes throughout, creating pockets of beauty and breath. In addition to the murder, there are gut-wrenching questions about race and politics that are unfortunately not unlike what we face today.
Top-notch acting and clever writing make A Soldier’s Play far more than your typical murder mystery. In this writer’s opinion, this is a masterpiece that simply should not be missed – exquisitely told and questions that unfortunately have not lost their relevance.
April 4 - April 16, 2023
18 W. Monroe St.
About the Author: Lauren Katz
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
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