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Army of One

Taye Diggs helps revive a classic showcase for black theater.

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Since its Off Broadway beginning in 1981, A Soldier’s Play has become a holy grail for black actors. This season, Charles Fuller’s account of a 1944 murder investigation at a segregated Army base gets its first major revival, featuring a new generation of talents. Playing the officer who leads the investigation is Taye Diggs, recently seen on TV’s Kevin Hill, but a New York theater addict at heart.

How’d you get involved?
I heard they were doing it. From . . . somebody. You know Hollywood, they don’t care about theater, so it’s not like my agents came to me with the idea.

Why’d you want the job?
If you’re a male black actor that knows about theater, you want to be in A Soldier’s Play—it’s just history. When I was smaller, I was dark-skinned, I had glasses, I didn’t have high self-esteem. And I remember seeing the movie version with Denzel Washington. He had this amazing confidence—he just looked like a cool brother. So I went out the next day and got some round-rimmed wire glasses.

But you’re not playing his role here. Yours is more of a Sidney Poitier part.
The interesting thing about Officer Davenport is, because of how he’s come up, he’s kind of an outcast on all levels. It’s not like I have to go that far, because growing up, this was me. I would go certain places, and black people would say that I talked white and white people thought I was black, so I was in a no-man’s-land.

You started out in the New York theater with Rent, but you’ve been away in L.A. Why return now?
To me, theater’s what acting is. I don’t know, it’s just the real deal. It’s almost like, if you want a real New York slice of pizza, you’ve got to go to New York City.

You’ve just wrapped the movie version of Rent. What do you think of the transfer to film?
I never liked the idea, because it just seemed like it should not be tampered with. Then I realized they were going to use the original cast, and I thought Jonathan Larson would have most definitely wanted it done. I’m cool with Justin Timberlake [who was originally considered for the lead role]. But it’s probably a good thing that the cast is the same, you know what I mean. If Justin and Beyoncé had done it, I’m thinking the critics would have just been waiting there.

With The Color Purple on the horizon, this seems like a surprisingly solid theater season for black actors.
That’s the thing that’s so annoying. It’s always a good year for white people, and we have to wait for folks to decide whether or not it’s a good year for us.

A Soldier's Play
Written by Charles Fuller
Second Stage Theater
September 20 to November 13


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