A Soldier's Play | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

A Soldier's Play 

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A Soldier's Play, Congo Square Theatre Company, at the Theatre Building Chicago. Charles Fuller won the 1982 Pulitzer for A Soldier's Play, set on an army base in Fort Neal, Louisiana, in 1944. Ostensibly a legal suspense drama, it examines black self-hatred. A black NCO, Sergeant Waters, is found shot to death in the Louisiana woods. The black officer and lawyer sent to investigate the murder, Captain Davenport, meets resistance from the unit's white commanding officer, Captain Taylor, who fears retaliation by black soldiers against Klan locals and white officers implicated in the murder.

The crackle of Fuller's work is lost in this low-energy production, Congo Square's season opener. The slow pace diminishes the play's blistering dialogue and chilling revelations. Though in Fuller's script the investigating officer deliberately cultivates a striking Douglas MacArthur profile, Reginald Nelson's Davenport wears an ill-fitting uniform and oversize hat and looks like a child playing dress-up.

Some supporting performances deserve special mention, especially Will Sims II as the gentle, guitar-playing bumpkin who bears the brunt of Sergeant Waters's twisted racial uplift schemes; Willie B. Goodson as the family man willing to compromise his principles to get his stripes back; and Tim Miller as the West Point-trained Taylor, who doesn't respect Negroes but knows he soon must trust them with his life when the company ships out to Europe.

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