Iconic performance venue The Kennedy Center is hosting a revival of award-winning playwright Charles Fuller's masterpiece A Soldier's Play. I initially made plans to travel to New York two years ago when the play was on Broadway and featuring the talents of Blair Underwood & David Allen Grier.
Regretfully though, the pandemic hit, so I could not make the trip. Naturally, I was over the moon when I heard the show would make its way to The Kennedy Center and that thespian Norm Lewis would topline the cast. My introduction to A Soldier's Play occurred as a child of the eighties when I saw the film adaptation of A Soldier's Story. Working with director Norman Jewison, Fuller adapted his screenplay, and the film would go to earn three Oscar Nominations.
The play opens in 1944, on a Louisiana Army base introducing us to a drunk and mumbling Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (Eugene Lee). Two shots ring out in the blink of an eye, and Sgt Waters's life ends. To avoid negative press, the base Commander requests that someone outside the base investigate the case. To his surprise, a black officer named Captain Richard Davenport (Norm C. Lewis) is assigned to discover why the sergeant was murdered.
Unfouratnely not everyone is keen on having a black officer on the case. Most notably Captian Charles Taylor (William Connell).Capt. Davenport has his work cut out for him over a series of interrogations that triggers a gripping barrage of questions about sacrifice, service, and identity in America.
Kenny Leon directs the play with a remarkable eye that anyone who ever served in the armed force will appreciate. My good friend who attended the show with me was both reminded of our military service watching the talented cast. Two particular standouts were the characters of CJ Memphis (Sheldon D. Brown), a musically gifted gentle giant, and Wilkie (Howard Overshown), Water's lackey.
Of course, the most in attendance were there to see Norm Lewis, who commands the stage with Hollywood-esque leading man qualities. If you know the story of A Solider's Play, then you know the amount of disdain an actor must bring to Sergeant Vernon C. Waters. Eugene Lee is more than up to the challenge. I respect Lee for making the role his own and never trying to recreate what the late Adolph Caesar brought to the role.
A quickly paced whodunit with stellar performances, A Solider's Play is highly recommended.
Final Grade: A
"A Soldier's Play" runs through January 8, 2023, at the Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theater, 700 F St NW, Washington, DC 20566. For more information and tickets, click here