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African American Repertory Theater debuts with a strong tale from WWII

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by Lawson Taitte, Dallas News

A Soldier’s Play holds up very well 26 years after winning Charles Fuller the Pulitzer Prize. In fact, its story of a black man who lunges toward his goal despite extreme opposition seems remarkably timely.

Seen at a special Thursday performance honoring veterans, police officers and firefighters on the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, this is the first production by an ambitious new company, African American Repertory Theater. Veteran stage and movie actor Irma P. Hall is the artistic director; her co-founders are William (Bill) Earl Ray and Regina Washington. The venue is the Corner Theatre in DeSoto’s town center.

Mr. Ray directed and stars in A Soldier’s Play. Onstage with him you’ll find a quorum of the area’s best black actors. Together they tell a story of racial inequality and turmoil during World War II, an era when the American military was still segregated.

A morose taskmaster of a sergeant (Mr. Ray) is shot to death as the play begins. Eventually Capt. Richard Davenport (Vince McGill) – the first black officer anybody in this Southern post has ever seen – arrives to investigate. Taylor (Vince Davis), a white officer who has been trying to prevent a cover-up, fears that Davenport’s race will prevent him from getting a conviction even if he does discover the truth.

The sergeant’s squadron, an elite team of former Negro League baseball players, has to do the lowest menial tasks between games. Marcus Mauldin plays the genial, illiterate blues player, Elliott Gilbert II the rebellious newcomer and Alonzo Waller the obsequious former non-com trying to get his stripes back. Suspicion, however, falls on a pair of belligerent white officers (Scott Barber and Christian Taylor).

Mr. McGill, fresh off his success in Shakespeare Dallas’ Othello, portrays Davenport’s grit with a smooth freshness. In the climactic scene, he shows almost too much emotion. Mr. Ray really dominates the show, though: In the many flashbacks, he captures the sergeant’s simultaneous pride and self-loathing with great power.

PLAN YOUR LIFE Through Sept. 28 at DeSoto Corner Theatre, 211 E. Pleasant Run Rd., DeSoto. Runs 120 mins. $15 to $20. 972-572-0998, http://www.aareptheater.com.

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Written by Symphony

September 13, 2008 at 12:59 am

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