This is a riveting whodunit murder mystery thriller, where the culprit is not revealed until the very end.
Set on a Louisiana Army base, with an all-male cast— a rarity in today’s theater— the play addresses racial conversations and relationships in the military.
A Soldier’s Play is having a two-week engagement at Forrest Theatre through Feb. 5 and is presented by The Shubert Organization and the Kimmel Cultural Campus.
The play was produced as a film adaptation– A Soldier’s Story— in 1984. The film, with a screenplay by Fuller, was nominated for multiple Academy Awards and starred Denzel Washington and David Alan Grier, along with Samuel L. Jackson. The Broadway revival starred Grier and TV/Film star Blair Underwood.
Emmy & Tony winner Norm Lewis, along with Broadway, TV & film star Eugene Lee, also starred in the original 1981 Off-Broadway production and worked alongside playwright Charles Fuller. They are available for interviews on a limited basis.
This riveting drama has quite the pedigree; it won the 2020 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play; the original 1981 Off-Broadway production won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Set on a U.S. Army installation in the segregation-era South, the play is a loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd and follows the murder investigation of the Sergeant in an all-black unit. The play uses a murder mystery to explore the complicated feelings of anger and resentment that some African Americans have toward one another, and the ways in which many black Americans have absorbed white racist attitudes.
Malik Childs, who plays the role of Pvt. Tony Smalls, in the current tour, is a native of Detroit and graduated from the UNC School of the Arts in 2019. His recent productions include Exception to the Rule by Dave Harris (Roundabout Theater Company). and soft by Donja R. Love (Williamstown Theater Festival).
“I am overjoyed to tell stories that celebrate, dismantle, and uplift the people of my community,” Childs explains. “In honor of playwright Charles Fuller, I am excited to share this staple around the country.”
What do you love about this play?
Malik Childs: I love how universal it is. It’s for everybody; every creed. I love this production in particular. I have the opportunity to work with Eugene Lee who was in the original production in the 80s. There is a brotherhood you can find in a play like this and an important message that the audience can receive from a play like this.
What is the message?
I would say the message lies at the root of humanity and our society and what we created which sadly involved race and how the elements can affect us all the way to our Army. Seeking out profound humanity and finding it.
How did you find your way to your character, Private Tony Smalls?
The best way to figure him out was by doing research about what it was like to enlist or get drafted in the 1940s. It was definitely a difficult time and I have great empathy for those who would give their lives for this country; a country that was not there for them. This is all he has; the U.S. Army or nothing. He doesn’t have a family to go back to. Not one that Charles fuller wrote about. So, my character doesn’t have much to go back to and it boils down to the all-or-nothing behind him being in the Army.
What research did you conduct for this role?
I did some reading and saw clips of the war from back then. The routes in Germany they had to take. We all watched the Broadway production from 2019 with Blair Underwood and David Alan Greer to get into the core of the story that we are telling
Tours can be tough with being on the road for so long. Have you toured like this before?
No, this is my first tour. We started rehearsal on November 14 in New York and kicked off the tour in Connecticut in mid-December.
How is the tour going?
It’s going well We were in Charlotte, N.C. for two weeks and then heading over to Philadelphia.
Have you been to Philly before?
I’ve been there once or twice to see a friend and a sporting event. I went to see the 76ers and The Warriors and I was excited to have a glimpse of the city. I have a few friends there and I want to see the 76ers play The Magic when I am in town.
What else are you looking forward to when you are here?
The great food. I also love a good park and there are nice parks a short distance from the hotel. I like to find a nice mom-and-pop coffee shop as opposed to chain stores. I look for those hole-in-the-wall places if we have time. So it is nice that we will be in two for two weeks because it will give me time to see some of the sights and sounds of the city.
I hear that on a tour your cast mates become like family. Is this true?
Yes. I have already made some close friendships. It starts with all the trust we had to find in the room during the two weeks of rehearsal and completely showing who you are. The Broadway production had six weeks of rehearsal while we only had two so everything happened very quickly.
In the first few cities, we had a basketball team kind of vibe while we get to know one another. We have gone to the gym or the park and this cemented our chemistry off the stage. That
translates to how we need one another to be open to receive one another. It is also a blessing to be living in the same hotel where we have our own space but can forge our friendships. We know we will be on the road for six months and have a lot of time to deepen these relationships on and off the stage.
Why do you and your castmates want readers to come to see this production?
It is a great representation of American history. On top of that, there is a type of murder mystery element to it. We want them to come to be ready to receive a story. Everyone can come to this show and receive it. This is for this group or that group of people. I promise you it is for everyone. You will see yourself and someone you know in some capacity.
Future – definitely not going to rule out Broadway, not hang my hat on it. If that play calls to me. I just want to do work that is going to inspire change. To do original work. definitely want to dabble more in TV and film. I have a TV credit. – the good things are going to come when they come and I am looking forward to it. Not just hungry for any show or movie, I want to find a personal connection and my community of people as well
A Soldier’s Play is in Philadelphia at the Forrest Theatre for a two-week engagement through Feb. 5 and is presented by The Shubert Organization and the Kimmel Cultural Campus.