A Soldier’s Play

American Airlines Theatre, Manhattan

Is Broadway finally ready for this tale of American racism during World War II?

By Andrew Andrews

Original photo by Michael Sult from FreeImages.

In the middle of World War II, a command of segregated black infantrymen at Fort Neal, Alabama is shaken by the murder of their trouble-causing sergeant, Vernon C. Waters.

Although the enlisted men are certain that Waters was lynched by the Klan, base commander Captain Charles Taylor believes two white officers are guilty of the crime.

Captain Richard Davenport, a lawyer well-known as one of few black officers at the time, shows up to investigate the incident. Taylor insists that the locals won’t cooperate with Davenport’s investigation, and this struggle between two men on the same side creates plenty of tension, in this story about the complicated relationship not only between the races, but within them as well.

Originally performed off-Broadway nearly forty years ago, the story was considered too “revolutionary” for the Great White Way at the time, although it did receive the Pulitzer Prize and a film version soon after.

From the dimly-lit set filled with somber, spiritual harmonies at the opening, to the final, full-cast salute at the end, this production has everything I expect from a show of this caliber.

The complex characters are superbly portrayed by the cast, from the well-known leads to the minor but important roles, and the simple set dissected by perpendicular lines delivers a cold, rough backdrop for the never-ending interpersonal tension.

Although this is far from a musical, the blues-inspired songs that are regularly sung by the enlisted men in their barracks are one of the highlights of this production, whether used as a segue or to express their collective anguish.

Clocking in at less than two hours including the intermission, this isn’t a long show and doesn’t feel like one. At the same time, my partner and I felt that the pacing was perfect, and the engrossing story felt complete and never contradicted itself.

There was a very brief moment during our performance when the microphones went out, and some noise from the sidewalk bled into the theater during a quiet moment in the action. But these were minor distractions, and didn’t stop the experience from being everything I expect from the topmost notch of live theatre.

Appealing to a more diverse audience than most of what Broadway has to offer, it’s a shame that this classic whodunnit? mystery with stronger-than-average character development will only be around a short time.

Andrew Andrews attended A Soldier’s Play at American Airlines Theatre in Manhattan on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 @ 8:00pm to write this review.