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Charles Fuller’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner A Soldier’s Play will be performed at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia. Within the past few years, this play from Roundabout Theatre Company is back in the news, especially after winning the 2020 Tony Award for Best Revival.
Underneath the surface
A Soldier’s Play is a murder mystery, but underneath the whodunit angle are layers of racism that slowly surface. A Black sergeant is murdered on a segregated African American Army base during World War II in 1944, resulting in an investigation where some of the white officers who considered themselves liberal soon discover that deep down they are racist.
William Connell portrays Captain Charles Taylor, the West Point graduate white officer in charge of the segregated Black unit who resents that an officer of color took charge of the murder investigation. “It’s a massive reality shock to my character that this person of color could head the investigation,” said Connell. “All my inner prejudices and racist attitudes now come to life. My character wants everything done by the book and in some ways that’s a form of prejudice as well. I can’t see outside the lines—the fixture of the military world of the 1940s.”
Other examples of racism become blatant. While on this segregated Army base, some of the African American soldiers fear for their lives because certain white racists, which include fellow US soldiers want to kill them. “They (the Black soldiers) are looking forward to going to Europe where they would now fight the enemy and feel safe,” said Connell. “They just want to get the hell out of the south because that was more dangerous.”
On stage, one of the African American soldiers who also fought in World War I remembered that during that conflict they were forbidden to wear US uniforms. They had to wear France’s uniforms and fight alongside the French, not their white fellow Americans. This would have been four years before US president Harry Truman desegregated the troops.
“A lot of those issues are extremely pertinent for today,” said Connell. A Soldier’s Play looks to illuminate the US’s relationship with racism and how it has progressed, regressed, and stayed the same throughout its history.
What, When, Where
A Soldier’s Play. By Charles Fuller, directed by Kenny Leon. $35-$159. January 24-29, 2023, at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. (215) 893-1999 or kimmelculturalcampus.org.
All theatres have wheelchair-accessible seating and include stair-free access and open space to accommodate a variety of mobility devices; upholstered, loose chairs can also be provided. For more info, visit the Kimmel's accessibility page.
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