Cast in 1981’s ‘A Soldier’s Play,’ Eugene Lee reenlists for 2022 tour



“A Soldier’s Play” author Charles Fuller could have been a grasp wordsmith, however as actor Eugene Lee describes it, the true energy of his Pulitzer Prize-winning script was its potential to carry a room to silence.

Lee, 69, was a solid member within the unique 1981 manufacturing of “A Soldier’s Play,” produced off-Broadway by the Negro Ensemble Company and directed by Douglas Turner Ward. When the actors sat down on the primary day of rehearsal and skim by means of the play — concerning the investigation into the homicide of an all-Black Military unit’s sergeant in 1944 Louisiana — he remembers a hush that washed over the room because the solid processed Fuller’s incisive depiction of id, army obligation and race in America.

Charles Fuller, who won a Pulitzer for ‘A Soldier’s Play,’ dies at 83

“It was like everyone knew,” Lee remembers. “Doug broke that silence and he mentioned, ‘That’s it. If you happen to don’t ever do something extra with it, that’s it.’ And from that second on, we have been champing on the bit to share this play with the remainder of the world.”

4 a long time later, Lee continues to be sharing “A Soldier’s Play” — now as a solid member within the touring manufacturing onstage on the Kennedy Heart by means of Jan. 8. After taking part in Cpl. Bernard Cobb within the off-Broadway manufacturing and Pfc. Melvin Peterson in its subsequent tour, Lee takes on the position of Vernon C. Waters — the risky sergeant whose loss of life looms over the play — within the touring manufacturing of director Kenny Leon’s 2020 Broadway revival.

Talking by cellphone from New Haven, Conn., the place the “Soldier’s Play” tour had a quick run earlier this month earlier than formally opening on the Kennedy Heart, the actor and playwright (“East Texas Sizzling Hyperlinks”) mentioned taking part in a 3rd character within the present, mirrored on the unique manufacturing’s resonance and gave his tackle the endurance of Fuller’s message.

(This interview has been edited for size and readability.)

Q: The unique manufacturing of “A Soldier’s Play” included a younger Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. What do you bear in mind about working with them and the remainder of that ensemble?

A: Oh, what’s the phrase? Fellowship, brotherhood, camaraderie, ensemble — it’s by no means been extra represented, I feel, in any manufacturing that I’ve ever skilled than on this play. It was a tightly knit group of people that watched out for one another, who cared about one another, who beloved one another. The households, we’re nonetheless linked. After I lived in LA, a lot of my prolonged household was people who have been concerned with the Negro Ensemble Firm and, particularly, these troopers — folks like Sam and Denzel and Jim Pickens. We have been all out in LA, and we’d spend the vacations at one another’s houses. You understand, I’m “Uncle Gene” to most of those guys’ youngsters. So it was a particular time.

Norm Lewis commands the stage in ‘A Soldier’s Play’ at Kennedy Center

Q: How would you describe the dynamic of returning to this play 4 a long time later?

A: It’s actually nice to revisit this play as a barely extra mature actor, with a barely extra finely tuned instrument, if you understand what I imply, and as a extra mature playwright to rediscover the nuance on this play, the contradictions, the resonance that it nonetheless has in American society immediately. To revisit it and see how a lot it nonetheless resonates and nonetheless echoes is absolutely form of particular. That’s what I really like about what we do. It may well have therapeutic energy, but it surely additionally communicates concepts so properly.

Q: What does it say concerning the timelessness of Fuller’s writing that the themes he touches on nonetheless stay so related?

A: It says volumes. I actually really feel that Charles, in his work, sought a few staple items, and that’s fact and readability. This play has each these issues, and people issues are everlasting. The reality is without end, and in case you current it with a stage of readability that’s poetic, it makes it resonate that rather more.

Q: Waters is a remarkably sophisticated character whose loss of life drives the story ahead. How do you strategy taking part in him?

A: Truthfully and, hopefully, with readability. This man solely exists as a reminiscence for these troopers which are being interviewed. So there’s an odd obligation — spoiler alert or no matter — however there are lies which are informed in these interviews, and I’ve to play these lies. I’ve to be what they are saying I used to be, which could be very fascinating. However to additionally have the ability to discover the contradictions on this man, the vulnerabilities in addition to these sturdy factors, the sensitivities that this man has, to discover a option to make him a whole human being are a part of the problem. And there’s a lot there to work with.

Q: Do you end up channeling Adolph Caesar, who performed the position off-Broadway in 1981 and within the Oscar-nominated 1984 movie adaptation “A Soldier’s Story,” or David Alan Grier, who performed the half on Broadway in 2020?

A: I do suppose there’s part of me that channels a chunk of Adolph. He was paradigm, he was the unique, so in reality, I discover myself making an attempt to work towards parroting Adolph, to make it mine. As Kenny reimagines this play, I feel it’s essential that I achieve this as properly and never carry expectations of this play associated to what I did or what anybody did within the unique or every other manufacturing.

Q: What are the feelings that come to thoughts once you replicate in your lengthy historical past with this play and the chance to circle again to it on this tour?

A: Properly, elation, glee, honor are the feelings. I’m as excited now about doing this play as I ever was. I beloved getting there early and doing this play each night time and sharing this play with whoever sat out within the viewers, so I’ve received that very same form of pleasure and enthusiasm about sharing it with this new solid and about sharing this throughout the nation as properly. This can be a a lot larger viewers than simply New York, and that’s thrilling. I really feel like a child in a sweet retailer. That is huge enjoyable.

John F. Kennedy Heart for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St. NW; 202-467-4600.

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