Brian Hester Reporting
Forty years ago, a play by Charles Fuller premiered off Broadway as produced by The Negro Ensemble Company and won a Pulitzer for Best Drama. The play, light years ahead of it’s time in opening a much-needed dialogue on race and relations in the USA and the world finally made it Broadway. The current production, directed by Kenny Leon, and starring David Alan Grier, Blair Underwood, Jerry O’Connell and Nnamdi Asmougha runs through this Sunday March 15, 2020 at The American Airlines Theatre on Broadway. The fact that it took over forty years for a Pulitzer Prize winning drama to travel the few short blocks from off Broadway to Broadway speaks volumes as to where we as a nation still stand on issues of equality.
The play runs through this Sunday and is hands down my absolute favorite and the best, most concerning, compiling production I have seen all season. This deserves a Tony. Plane and simple. The performance by former Tony nominee David Alan Grier, (Sergeant Vernon C. Waters) should most certainly earn him another nod. Just a slight aside here; I first met Mr. Grier back on Feb. 10, 2010 during a blizzard in Times Square in New York City as he and co-stars Kerry Washington, and Richard Thomas held a stage door for about 20 die hard Broadway supporters that had ventured out in the epic snow storm to see the play Race. I stood by and overheard a passer bye asking for an autograph exclaim, “I know you from In Living Color” and I though, wow, this actor has a MFA from Yale and he is out here in a Blizzard signing autographs and taking selfies. See for yourself. I thanked all three actors out in a Blizzard that evening and thanked me back for coming out in Blizzard to support them. Humble. Oh and John Boy and I bonded over the fact that we both come from large families although mine was larger than the Walton’s.
Speaking of Selfies, and again, I digress, Follow Jerry O’Connell, (Captain Charles Taylor) on his Instagram @mrjerryoc . And he promises to take a selfie with anyone that asks him, so if you see him on the streets of NYC or walking down Broadway or at the Stage Door over the next few nights, Ask for your selfie, tell him Broadway Brian told you it was ok. If you think I’m joking take a look at his IG. If I’m lucky I might get elevated to “Reporting for Duty” status before the show closes on Sunday. Hint. Hint.
Blair Underwood, (Captain Richard Davenport) and Jerry O’Connell are stellar here as well as are the entire supporting cast. Underwood draws the audience in with his stage presence such that you feel he may actually be a Black US Army Officer in 1940’s in the south. By that I mean he carries himself with such swagger and faces the relationships and interactions with lower ranking US Army personal that are white as to own his rank regardless of skin color and to make them respect it as well. The play itself looks so much deeper into race relations than that as it takes steps further to examine the role that race plays with each race itself.
Also impressive is the performance by Nnamdi Asomugha, (Private First-Class Melvin Peterson). A multi award winning actor and producer Mr. Asomugha spent 11 seasons in the NFL prior to coming to Broadway and was a former All-Pro player. I only highlight the NFL as all too often the media like to highlight any negative activity or incident involving current of former players and I like to highlight some of the amazing, positive, inspirational activities of NFL Players, past and present. Grid Iron Legend, Icon Thespian of His Day, I’m thinking like Rutgers own Paul Roberson. Look for Mr. Asomugha to take home All Pro status awards in the Theatre as well. I’m thinking future 30 for 30 on ESPN? Hey why not a good former player story? Call me crazy.
There are ups and downs for the plot that carry the story along while allowing the audience to feel the aspects of race upon the characters as if they we family. The black soldiers, as the base because the can play baseball, just want their chance to go into combat for their country but they aren’t allowed due to segregated Armed Forced of WWII. The supporting cast does an incredible job and in his Broadway debut Rob Demery stood out as Corporal Bernard Cobb.
One moment I wasn’t sure at first belonged in the play, not hating here, but there is a scene where Blair Underwood walks out front and center stage while getting dressed, innocently enough, until the house get a look at the abs and everyone goes crazy with ooohh and ahhhhs. At first, I thought, hmmm, wow, and, did that go there? But as I settled back in my seat and watched the rest of the show, I realized it had an important relief value that drew us back into the 1940’s.
If this play does not get a nomination for Best Play then perhaps for Best Revival? I don’t know if it can count in that category as the original production was not actually on Broadway? Someone help me out here? Finally, if not nominated in either of the aforementioned categories then it must be given consideration under the Special Awards Category. And if you are in town and you have a chance before this Sunday evening, See This Play!!! Hopefully this play is not affected by the recent coronavirus outbreak. Check Theatre website before heading out.
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