Chicago Theater Review: A SOLDIER’S PLAY (Raven Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 19, 2013

in Theater-Chicago


As sturdily written and swiftly moving as it was in 1982, Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play remains an enduring testament to the homefront battles that African-American Larewnce Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of A SOLDIER'S PLAY in Chicagosoldiers fought during World War II, within their ranks as well as with white comrades in arms. It’s the kind of upfront, downhome American classic that Raven Theatre can lift to relevance, even urgency. Happily, that happens here.

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 (Antoine Pierre Whitfield), 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.

Besides alienating his troops by holding out an even higher standard of conduct than the white soldiers endure, ambitious and driven Vernon Waters enraged them too, partly by having stripes to start with, but mostly by showing the pride and Larewnce Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of A SOLDIER'S PLAY in Chicagoindependence that comes from being an N.C.O.

It’s up to Captain Richard Davenport (Frank Pete), an African-American prosecutor, more used to dealing with M.P. incidents than homicides, to find the killer and the cause. Artfully, 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?

But this playwright isn’t interested in concocting a detective story like A Few Good Men. His focus is on two outspoken African-American officers, Waters and Larewnce Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of A SOLDIER'S PLAY in ChicagoDavenport, who defy low expectations and lower stereotypes to do their job, whether preparing men for war or getting justice for a slain brother. As is true for women, these “colored warriors” must achieve twice as much to get half the respect they deserve. Waters’ mistake was to make it personal, reviling his men for anything whites might use against them, including singing the blues. (For Waters, even the base’s softball games should be another form of combat.)

Michael Menendian stages Fuller’s still-angry, Pulitzer-winning protest play with all the precision of a military operation, imposing unit cohesion on an excellent ensemble. The most somber point of Raven’s estimable revival is that a play which should be dated has many reasons to return.

photos by Dean LaPrairie

A Soldier’s Play
Raven Theatre’s East Stage, 6157 N. Clark
scheduled to end on March 30, 2013
for tickets, call 773-338-2177 or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

Larewnce Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of A SOLDIER'S PLAY in Chicago

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