Few topics evoke feelings of discomfort more than race and violence. Only the most masterful storytellers can weave two such themes together in a way that helps us deeply explore the intersection of what feels most unsettling to us.
In A Soldier’s Play, playwright Charles Fuller uses his storytelling chops at their finest in an exploration of race, violence, and culture in Fort Neal, Louisiana during World War II. Vernon Waters (Larry Akin Smith), a sergeant overseeing a Black unit, is murdered on base. A Black attorney, Captain Richard Davenport (Keydron Dunn), is brought in to investigate. Not only must Davenport discover the truth about the case, but he must also navigate the political waters surrounding early-20th century racism in the community (think: Ku Klux Klan) and within the ranks of the military itself. The commanding officer on base, Captain Charles Taylor (Chandler Hubbard) is his first foil who plainly states that Davenport is unwelcom on his base in his pursuit of justice. Davenport’s strength of character and clarity keeps him focused on his mission as he elicits the sequence of events from the soldiers in the unit.
Such a powerful story involving upsetting themes can only come to life in the hands of those with a passion for the topic, and the experience and talent to carry it off. Theater veteran and Director Shanea N. Taylor masters this audacious task. Taylor gathers a cast of solid performers, who together convincingly bring to life the nuance of this complex and potentially dangerous situation. The set, lighting, and effects establish a stark and somber mood, the foundation upon which Taylor brings us physically, mentally, and emotionally into the era.
Erich Appleby (Corporal Cobb) adds charm and levity as the unit’s Casanova. Joshua Carter plays Private Memphis with heart and tenderness, depicting Memphis’ artistic soul. Gary James King’s performance as Corporal Ellis is delightful and uplifting. Smith leaves no room for doubt in his performance as bad guy Sergent Waters. Dunn and Hubbard’s tense and dynamic relationship is portrayed skillfully through its various stages of evolution, and gives hope for what is possible in our current era as we continue to grapple with race relations.
A Soldier’s Play continues at Swift Creek Mill Theatre through March 4, 2023. The content and language are disturbing, and most appropriate for teenagers and adults. For tickets and showtimes, go here.