A Soldier’s Play, Charles Fuller 1981

Earlier this year, I read about a play by Charles Fuller that had won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1982 and was going to open on Broadway during the winter of 2020.  Despite winning the Pulitzer and an Obie (with another Obie going to a young actor named Denzel Washington), the play had  never been performed on Broadway.  The playwright’s explanation for that failure was his refusal to delete the play’s final line, “…you can bet your ass on that, Captain—you will get used to it”. The ‘that’ referred to was “Negroes being in charge”, a reference to the African-American Captain Davenport who has solved the mystery of a murder of an African-American sergeant on the segregated US Army post in Louisiana in 1944.  The two act play is a seething cauldron of racial tension, between southern whites and their fellow Black soldiers but also between the Black soldiers and their Black NCO.  Fuller had been in the Army in Japan and Korea and was familiar with its ways as well as familiar with racism in US society.  The action is fast-paced, often both psychologically and physically violent and threatening. I read it in one sitting it was so mesmerizing.  It made me tense and uncomfortable, as I’m sure it was intended to.  Fuller’s final line prediction could be read to be prescient of Obama’s presidency, but the hate and prejudice of the white officers and the self-hatred of the Black enlisted men in this play from nearly 40 years ago are still reflected in our world today.  I found this book on my library shelves in Vermont with my younger daughter’s name and high school class written on the inside cover.  Time….

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