This week, you will be attending a performance of Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play, directed by Kenny Leon. The groundbreaking Negro Ensemble Company premiered this masterwork off-Broadway in 1981, and it went on to win the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Now, I am honored for Roundabout to be giving this play it long-overdue Broadway debut, especially with this remarkable company.
Charles Fuller is an acclaimed writer whose work has been seen off-Broadway, across the country, and on televisions around the world. Fuller served in the Army from 1959-1962. This experience inspired much of his major work at Philadelphia’s Afro-American Arts Theatre and the Negro Ensemble Company, including Zooman and the Sign (for which he won an Obie Award). Charles’s reach also extends beyond the theatre. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his 1984 screenplay adaptation of A Soldier’s Play, titled A Soldier’s Story—which allowed Charles to share his vision with an even wider audience.
Just as Charles himself broke barriers and created innovative new art, perhaps no piece of his work epitomizes his worldview as pointedly as A Soldier’s Play. Charles himself originally considered the play too revolutionary for Broadway, as it pictured a vastly different future from the present that he depicted. Today, though, A Soldier’s Play proves as powerful and vitally necessary as ever. Inspired by Fuller’s own experiences in the U.S. Army, A Soldier’s Play explores the tensions inherent in a search for truth. On a segregated Louisiana Army base in 1944, Captain Richard Davenport is tasked with investigating the murder of a Black sergeant, Vernon C. Waters. In his search, he must not only contend with white officers, but must also investigate other Black soldiers for the murder. Davenport comes face to face with the injustices inherent in our systems, both structural and self-imposed. Through his investigation into Waters’s murder, we are reminded of the roles we inhabit through our identities, and how we don’t necessarily decide those roles for ourselves.
I am thrilled to have two extraordinary actors at Roundabout in the pivotal roles of Captain Davenport and Sergeant Waters. Blair Underwood, playing Davenport, has previously starred on Broadway as Stanley Kowalski in the celebrated 2012 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. We are also welcoming David Alan Grier to Roundabout in the role of Waters. This is also a return to A Soldier’s Play for David, as he appeared as Private C.J. Memphis in the original off-Broadway production.
I have long admired Kenny Leon’s work. A Tony Award winner for the 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun, Kenny is one of his generation’s most prolific and celebrated directors. He recently helmed Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, as well as last year’s American Son on Broadway with Kerry Washington. Kerry reprised her role in the recent Netflix adaptation, which Kenny also directed.
I am proud that A Soldier’s Play is part of a Roundabout season that includes other revivals of essential American classics. This spring at Studio 54 you can experience the first Broadway revival of Caroline, or Change, the stunning musical (also set in southern Louisiana) by Tony Award winners Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori. I also believe that to create the next generation of classic works, we must produce new works. As such, this season also features six new works across our theatres, including the Broadway premiere of Noah Haidle’s Birthday Candles, starring the brilliant Debra Messing right here at the American Airlines Theatre.
As always, I ask you to share your thoughts on this play and our whole season by emailing me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org.
Thank you again for joining us, and I hope you enjoy A Soldier’s Play.