"A Soldier's Play" takes place on a segregated army base in Louisiana during World War II. Sargent Vernon Walters was a career military man who resented any negroes he believed acted without dignity. He particularly despised C.J. Memphis, a simple, good-natured private everyone liked. One night, someone shot to death Sgt. Walters as we staggered drunkenly back to the base. Captain Richard Davenport arrived from Washington, DC to investigate. His presence disrupted the camp, as no one had ever seen a black officer before Capt. Davenport.
Flashbacks tell the story through Davenport's interviews with those on the base. We see the colored soldiers, their relationship with their commanders, and the events leading up to the murder. "Soldier" does a masterful job of peeling back the layers of life in the Jim Crow South. All manners of racism confront the black enlisted men - from condescending white officers to the local Klan to microaggressions to explicit use of the "N" word. It made the audience feel uncomfortable in ways we should be uncomfortable.
Norm Lewis was excellent as Davenport, the stoic outsider lawyer, and Eugene Lee as Walters appeared to channel Adolph Caesar's performance in the 1984 film adaptation - "A Soldier's Story." Among the ensemble of enlisted men, Sheldon Brown stood out as the likable C.J. Memphis.
Kenny Leon's direction kept the sets simple and the lighting harsh and focused on the characters.
"A Soldier's Play" runs for only two weeks in Chicago but deserves a longer run. It made me think as few plays have.