Black Rep dazzles with whodunit play of revenge/murder plot

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By Bob Evans

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Murder of a military officer outside a southern military base housing black soldiers during war times might be from friendly fire or possibly the result of racial prejudice and the Klan, causing an investigation to pinpoint the killer and find the motive behind the crime.

Founder of The Black Rep, Damron Russel Armstrong sees progress as The Black Rep opens its second season with a mystery performed by predominately Black local actors. Armstrong said in his curtain speech that Kansas City needs more opportunities for the Black voice and Black actors to perform and grow the metropolitan audience. He could not be more right. Most of his talented cast seldom find parts in the local productions. While some theatre companies do cast minorities, few focus on minority actors or plays by minority playwrights. Armstrong’s dream continues with the second season of The Black Rep and a new home theatre, Arts Asylum, in its newly renovated auditorium.

“A Soldier’s Play” focuses on the murder of a Black sergeant known for his no-nonsense attitude toward his units and his determination to rid the unit of weak or inadequate individuals. Not for the easily offended, Southern Black dialect and frequent use of the common racial slur (yes, the N-word) frequent the play. The play highlights inequities within a specific race. Prejudice, inequality, oppression, jealousy exist within other races, but probably none more so than Blacks. “A Soldier’s Play” concerns one murder investigation inside a military unit. This particular story involves a Black unit.

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For this play, the stage of The Arts Asylum changed to accommodate this production and extends outward toward the audience, thereby putting the audience inside the action. The effect works and the audience feels that the action takes place around them. This configuration works well for the play and makes the presentation intimate and inclusive.

With that set and setting, the actors become the focus of the story and as an ensemble, the entire cast performs with perfection. No performance paled among the cast. All the men delivered strong performances and displayed strong stage presence. For “A Soldier’s Play,” director Armstrong selected a cast of novice and seasoned performers who meld into a strong, cohesive unit.

“A Soldier’s Play” gives reason for theater-goers to support The Black Rep to see quality theatre from local minority actors. Their voices and artistic endeavors need the chance to grow and thrive. With continued productions like this, the audience will grow. Word of mouth, social media, and public media outlets must unify to help promote this new theater company.

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The cast is: L. Roi Hawkins, George Forbes, Tim Ahlenius, Jerron O’Neal, Douglass Walker, Tony Pulford, Nathaniel Rasson, Matthew Hendrickson, John Conklin, Glenn Frizell, John Van Winkle, Trevon Wainwright. The Artistic staff is: Megan Greelee, stage manager; Paige Ahlenius, scenic design; Art Kent, lighting designer; Damron Russel Armstrong, sound/properties design.

“A Soldier’s Play,” by Charles Fuller continues at The Arts Asylum through Oct. 8. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online via The Black Rep website.

Tags: Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City, The Black Rep, “A Soldier’s Play”, Arts Asylum, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

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