Whenever Karen Christina Jones looks at the script from Charles Fuller’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner, “A Soldier’s Play,” she can’t help but think of her grandfather and wonder, “Just how bad was it?”
“I remember when I first saw the movie I had never seen anything like it, and I was so excited to tell my grandfather all about it,” said Jones, who is directing the Classic Theater Guild production of Fuller’s play beginning Friday at the Fenimore Gallery in Proctors.
“When I did, he just looked at me, and it unlocked all these experiences he had as a private and then a corporal during World War II. He told me his stories, and they have stayed with me.”
“A Soldier’s Play” takes place at a U.S. Army base in Louisiana in 1944, when the military was still racially segregated. The show opens with the murder of a black sergeant, and the story centers on an investigation of the killing by Capt. Richard Davenport, a black army officer.
‘A Soldier’s Play’
WHERE: Fenimore Gallery at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. April 11-13, and 2 p.m. April 14
HOW MUCH: $17.50-$14.50
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
The original production was done off-Broadway in 1981 and earned the Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play. Samuel L. Jackson and Denzel Washington were among the cast, and when the play was turned into a Hollywood movie called “A Soldier’s Story,” Howard E. Rollins Jr. played Capt. Davenport and the film earned three Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture.
Jones, who is black, learned from her grandfather that the racial prejudice and subsequent social issues demonstrated in “A Soldier’s Play” were not exaggerated.
“We watched the movie together once, and he enjoyed it,” Jones said of her grandfather, Paul Jones, Jr., who died in 1994.
“He said, ‘Yep, that’s pretty much how it was.’ He said his experience got to the point where he felt like the German prisoners were treated better than the black American soldiers. There was plenty of conflict.”
Mike Banks portrays Capt. Davenport in the Classic Theater Guild production, while Patrick White plays Capt. Charles Taylor and Michael Lake is Sgt. Vernon C. Waters.
“It’s not like any play I’ve ever directed,” said Jones. “It’s done in flashback style, which is a staple of film, but hardly ever seen on the stage. But we make it very clear so the audience knows what’s going on.”
Jones, a Brooklyn native who was raised on Long Island, went to York College in New York City and moved to the Albany area in 2000. She has both directed and performed with the Classic Theater Guild and Our Own Productions, including “Raisin in the Sun” last year at the Emannuel Friedens Church in Schenectady.
“My love for the theater kind of took off when I went to York College, and it’s been a big variable in my life ever since,” she said. “I was happy to see that there are theater groups in this area that do quality work, and it was great to have so many good actors come out for our auditions. It’s very exciting to see such an overwhelming response, and I think a lot of these actors just felt really drawn to this work, like I did. They felt like they were meant to be in this show.”
After the final show, a Sunday matinee on April 14, the cast will rejoin forces on Thursday night, April 18 at The Egg for a discussion of the play led by Fuller, a Philadelphia native and a graduate of LaSalle University. Fuller, who is black, is 74.
Sponsored by the African American Cultural Center of the Capital Region, the event will include scenes from the show performed by actors from the Classic Theater Guild production.
Race isn’t the only cultural issue that remains a popular theme among contemporary playwrights. At Curtain Call Theatre in Latham on Friday night, a production of “Our Son’s Wedding” will open up a monthlong run and address the subject of gay marriage, currently being deliberated by the U.S. Supreme Court.
‘Our Son’s Wedding’
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through May 11, performance times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $23
MORE INFO: 877-7529, www.curtaincalltheatre.com
“The whole gay marriage thing is very timely right now, and this play also happens to be both funny and touching,” said Gary Maggio, who plays Angelo Lopresto, a plumber and the father of Michael Lopresto, who is marrying a man named David Schwartz.
“It’s a little discomforting to my character to have a gay son. He loves him to pieces, but he has some trouble with him marrying another man. My character goes on quite a journey, and this play is also about the marriage between Angelo and his wife, Mary, and their relationship.”
“Our Son’s Wedding” was written by Donna de Matteo, and had its world premiere in 2007 at the Gloucester Stage Company in Massachusetts. The story revolves around an Italian-American couple, Angelo and Mary, who have journeyed to a glamorous, large-city hotel for their son’s wedding.
Joining Maggio on stage are Pat Brady as Mary, Charlie Owens as Michael and Patrick Rooney as David. Dianne O’Neill-Filer is directing.
“When I first read the script, I really enjoyed it,” said Maggio. “I thought it really worked, and felt it was a really good fit for me. It’s about the two guys getting married, but it’s also very much about the husband and wife, and how their marriage has grown, and how they play the power game with each other to try to gain control. My character is out there. You see what you get. Pat’s character is a bit more devious, but it’s very interesting how they each deal with the situation.”