In Charles Fuller’s “A Soldier’s Play”, currently running at Raven Theater, it’s 1944 and most American soldiers are already fighting the Nazis. But a restless group of young black troops remains in Louisiana, suffering through their own battles against prejudice and discrimination at home.
“A Soldier’s Play” is at its core a detective story. Captain Richard Davenport, one of the only black officers at the time, descends on the Louisiana base to investigate a murder that on the surface seems easy to solve, but becomes more and more circuitous as information trickles in. Through flashbacks the story doses the audience with clues to the case while exploring racial tensions on and off the base.
Fuller has created a tale with many heart-wrenching twists and sympathetic players, but unfortunately weak acting renders even the richest characters one-dimensional. As Captain Taylor, Tim Walsh bullies and barks like a crazed bulldog, overshadowing the commanding officer’s interesting ambivalence. Antoine Pierre Whitfield plays Sergeant Vernon C. Waters with an ostracizing anger, making it hard for one to fully discover his internal struggles.
Director Michael Menendian lets the show’s momentum ebb and flow. Menendian relies too much on the Pulitzer Prize winning writing rather than its delivery. There’s too many times when excellently written monologues border on boring because of the stiffness with which they are performed.
Thankfully Amanda Rozmiarek has succeeded in designing a sleek, militaristic style set that also gives a sense of fluidity and movement; scenes flow easily from one to the other. Costume designer JoAnn Montemurro did as much as she could with the bland army fatigues required, although they could have fit the men better.
While Raven Theater’s production doesn’t do Fuller’s script much justice, the complex relationships between characters and the unique storyline make the show a worthwhile watch.