A Soldier’s Play @ Clayton Community Theatre

A Soldier’s Play won the Pulitzer Prize for
Drama in 1982 after a long run off-Broadway. It’s finally coming to Broadway in January. Nada Vaughn, director of the recent Clayton
Community Theatre production, jokes that someone in New York must have been inspired by noticing
that Clayton was doing the play and that, if it’s good enough for Clayton, it’s good
enough for Broadway. And it is good enough for both. It’s a complex, well-written play, certainly
worth reviving. Playwright Charles Fuller wrote what on the
surface appears to be simply a murder mystery. But beneath that surface Fuller digs deeply
into major issues in our society. He sets the play in 1944 during the Second
World War in Fort Neal, Louisiana, in the still segregated army. A black sergeant, Vernon Waters, is murdered. Black Captain Richard Davenport is sent to
conduct the investigation. White Captain Taylor, in charge of the black
unit, does not make his life easy. Initially, everyone assumes the murder was
the work of the local Ku Klux Klan. As Davenport interrogates the men in the unit,
a series of flashbacks reveal other suspects. Two are white officers. And there are others. But Davenport also learns about Sergeant Waters. An intelligent, ambitious, and light-skinned
man, he loathed black men who conformed to old-fashioned racist stereotypes, Uncle Toms
and “lazy, shiftless Negroes” who reflected poorly on him and made it harder for blacks
like him to advance in white society. When such a soldier came into his unit, he
was hard on him, so hard that one of them committed suicide. He was a sweet kid, a star on the unit’s baseball
team, liked by the other soldiers, who did not like Waters’ treatment of him. Through Davenport’s investigation, playwright
Fuller reveals in this group of men, white and back, not just extremes of racial attitudes
but an extensive and complex range of attitudes. That makes A Soldier’s Play absorbing and
exciting to watch. As did Clayton’s cast. Jonathan Garland was a very strong Davenport,
Dennis Jethroe II a complicated Waters, Gregory Savel was Davenport’s white opposite, LaVell
Thompson Jr. the guitar-strumming country boy. Jackson Britt and Jack Lehmann played white
officers; Terrie Banks, Chris Moore, and Don McClendon played the more experienced soldiers;
and Donald Glenn Kidd III, Jeremy Thomas, and Jaz Tucker were the privates. Andrew and Zac Cary designed the efficient,
clear set. Nathan Schroeder’s lighting was subtle when
needed, Jean Heckmann costumed the men, Jackie Aumer did props, Nada Vaughn sound, Maria
Romine was the fight choreographer. A Soldier’s Play is a fine play, done well.

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