Review: A SOLDIERS PLAY at ASU Gammage

Now on stage at ASU Gammage, staring Norm Lewis.

By: May. 19, 2023
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Review: A SOLDIERS PLAY at ASU Gammage
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There is beauty in the power of an actor that can take the helm of a show like a ship. However, watching a cast lead just as strongly individually into the journey on stage is much more powerful. This is especially true when a show brings out the depth of perspectives a community may still be plagued to face decades beyond the conception of the piece. The magic is found in the portrayal of truths whilst showing how multifaceted perspectives can make a reality. The National Tour of A Soldier's Play at ASU Gammage is that piece, being led by not only the sensational Norm Lewis but also a fantastic cast, telling a story that although set in a time and place nearly 80 years ago, is also one that still mirrors realities our communities face today.

A Soldiers Play follows the story of a group of black soldiers at Fort Neal, Louisiana in 1944 during the murder investigation of Sergeant Vernon C. Waters. Without giving away the entire plot, the story unfolds revealing the effects of racism and oppression as well as the self-hate that can grow within. Digging deeper inside the plot, it is fascinating finding the facets of perspectives within each character, bringing a level of understanding that opens up questions of how upbringing and mindsets can skew our visions of behavior and motives.

The audience enters the ASU Gammage Theatre to a fantastic set designed by Derek McLane. Its beauty in simplicity and amazing use of levels, moving walls, and projections set up fantastic visuals, especially when paired with Allen Lee Hughes's lighting design. Director Kenny Leon (Tony Award, The Actors Fund Medal of Honor, Obie Award, NAACP Image Award) truly and phenomenally brings out the meaning and complexities of the play, going above and beyond putting up, as he stated in his interview when speaking on directing revivals, "...museum pieces." Norm Lewis (Emmy, Grammy, Tony, and SAG Award nominee) is incredible as Captain Richard Davenport. A powerful presence on the stage, Lewis's connection to fellow castmates is magnetic and genuine. Eugene Lee (East Texas Hot Links, Fear Itself, Somebody Called) is masterful as Sergeant Vernon C. Waters. Taking on this role is especially amazing after reading that he was in the original cast, which I'm certain brings a special bond to this show. Lee's tenacity in this antagonistic role is captivating and even jarring in places. Sheldon D. Brown (Choir Boy, Man in the Ring) as Private C.J. Memphis is amazing. Brown not only demonstrates an incredible connection to his character but also pairs it with a beautifully soulful voice, embodying the emotions in the songs he sings. The entire cast is spectacular, with a chemistry that reads loud and clear from any seat in the house. The way each story unfolds, whether exciting like Will Adams (Holiday in Harlem, Skeleton Crew) and Branden Davon Lindsay (Merry Wives, Awkwafina) As Corporal Bernard Cobb and Private Louis Henson finding out about finally joining the fight, or Heart-wrenching like Malik Esoj Childs (Exception to the Rule, Soft) in the moments he as Private Tony Smalls finally confesses to Davenport, is pure magic and beautiful to watch.

In his interview with Education Dramaturg Ted Sod, Director Kenny Leon touches on how he speaks with his cast in the rehearsal room about "...what the big issues and themes in the play are [and] how they can impact audiences." Stories such as these find their impact as you take the time to understand the stories being told beyond the plot. Further, as you begin to empathize and understand, the show becomes heavier with realization. A story written in the 80s about the 40s that can parallel the hardships and atrocities in 2023 should be a reminder to the patrons of ASU Gammage that there is still work to be done. The National Tour of A Soldiers Play will remain on the ASU Gammage stage until Sunday, May 21st. Please don't miss your opportunity to be touched by this sensational show.



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