Appreciating the new revival of A Soldier’s Play requires a little forgetfulness. Charles Fuller wrote his play about a query into the wrongful death of an American soldier well before we watched Tom Cruise handle Jack Nicholson’s truth in A Few Good Men. He also explored the way a black investigator’s race would stir unrest long before Denzel Washington demonstrated Courage Under Fire. His play proves richer than either of these cinematic successors. As an investigator puzzles out a black soldier’s murder in the South in 1944, Fuller shows how all of us, individually and collectively, are prisoners of our history.
Two years ago, Jo Bonney directed Living Out, Lisa Loomer’s extraordinary play about the fraught relationships between Latina nannies and the women whose children they raise, for Second Stage. Here, she delivers the same concision, if not the dramatic weight, she did in that milestone. The characters seem more actorly than soldierly, beginning with the too-smooth interrogator of Taye Diggs. But James McDaniel is suitably ferocious as the bullying, self-loathing victim, and as the unit’s resident hothead, Anthony Mackie again proves himself one of the most dynamic actors in New York. In the original production 24 years ago, young Denzel shared an Obie for playing this role and departed for Hollywood soon after. Does the same destiny await Mackie? Casting directors, anything you can do to postpone the unhappy day will be much appreciated.