Review: A Soldier’s Play at Celebration Arts

A Soldier’s Play

Charles Fuller’s play explores racism within the confines of a military murder mystery.

Charles Fuller’s play explores racism within the confines of a military murder mystery.

Photo courtesy of Brooklynn Solomon

Thu 8pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm; Through 9/29; $10-$20; Celebration Arts, 2727 B St.; (916) 455-2787;
Rated 4.0

War. Such a powerful word that encompasses so many emotions. So much of history is traced through stories of wars—not only the shifting of power, governments and borders, but also of people and cultures touched and altered by each war.

Celebration Arts’ current production of playwright Charles Fuller’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning A Soldier’s Play is a fascinating and thought-provoking glimpse into the complexity of war, race, culture and personality.

The play is a military murder mystery that takes place in 1944 at Fort Neal, Louisiana, a segregated army base where African-American soldiers are training for World War II combat, but not as equal brethren to their white counterparts.

It starts off with the murder of a black sergeant, but delves into racism, Uncle Tom-ism, lines of duty and power. True to murder mystery plots, the investigation is a constantly shifting whodunit—was it a white officer or a local Klan member? Was it caused by internal animosities or just an angry brawl?

Celebration Arts has pulled together a powerful cast of more than a dozen talented actors who work collectively to portray both the connection and division of black soldiers trying to navigate war within their own world as well as an impending war overseas. At times the plot is lost amid the chaos, but the issues remain intriguing.

The multi-tiered stage is wisely kept sparse, adorned with a couple of simple wooden tables and chairs, military chests and few props—nothing to distract from the emerging story and sundry characters. What does add to the production is dramatic lighting, some sound effects, and period-perfect music.