Los Angeles Theater Review: A SOLDIER’S PLAY (Sacred Fools Theater)

by Tony Frankel on June 16, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles

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THE WAR WITHIN THE WAR

As sturdily written and swiftly moving as it was in 1982, Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play remains an enduring testament to the home front battles that African-American soldiers fought during World War II, within their ranks as well as with white comrades in arms. It’s a kind of upfront, downhome American classic, and director Victor Isaac and his company at the Hollywood Fringe Festival lift it to relevance, even urgency.

The setting is an uneasily segregated Louisiana army base in 1944. With the war nearing its end, the black soldiers are aching for action, not just maintaining the motor pool and playing baseball. But the kind they get advances no cause. Several violent incidents, a triple murder and an unexplained suicide ends with the murder of Vernon C. Waters (a commanding, riveting performance by Mr. Isaac), an unpopular sergeant whose tough-love approach to his men means there will be plenty of suspects for whoever shot him three times on a dark road near the camp.

It’s up to Captain Richard Davenport (a downplayed Dominic Daniel), an African-American prosecutor, more used to dealing with M.P. incidents than homicides, to find the killer and the cause. Artfully time-shifting between flashbacks and present day, Fuller uses Davenport’s interviews with very different G.I.s, black and white, to hold out suspense until the end. Could it be the K.K.K., disgruntled cracker recruits out to eliminate an “uppity” sergeant, or an inside job from Waters’ barracks? Were these soldiers defeated by their own country before they would die in the Ruhr valley fighting Hitler?

With no set and minimal lights, Isaac stages Fuller’s still-angry, Pulitzer-winning protest play with all the precision of a military operation, imposing unit cohesion on an extraordinarily well-cast 12-member ensemble (my only quibble being some inauthentic stage combat and the distracting way actors enter and exit through an upstage door or curtain). Many actors deserve mention, but Ryan Lacey’s unforced innocence as C.J.—a blues-singing, sweet-natured soldier seen as expendable by a superior—is especially memorable. The most somber point of this estimable revival is that a play which should be dated has many reasons to return.

A Soldier’s Play
Sacred Fools Theater Second Stage
6320 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood
part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival
ends on June 25, 2017
for tickets, visit A Soldier’s Play

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