What are some of the similarities or differences between the play and the film A Soldier's Story?

The story, plot points, characters, and racial themes are essentially identical in both the film and stage adaptations of Charles Fuller's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. The differences are revealed in how different directors (stage and film) have used time, space, and allegory to manipulate which elements of the story their audiences should be focusing on.

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A Soldier's Playis a Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play written by Charles Fuller that was originally performed by the Negro Ensemble Company off Broadway between 1981 and 1983. It spawned the critically acclaimed film A Soldier's Story , released in 1984, and a new revival of the play on Broadway...

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A Soldier's Play is a Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play written by Charles Fuller that was originally performed by the Negro Ensemble Company off Broadway between 1981 and 1983. It spawned the critically acclaimed film A Soldier's Story, released in 1984, and a new revival of the play on Broadway in 2020.

Between all of these versions of both play and movie, the overall story, plot, and characters have remained the same. The setting is World War II at a time just before Blacks and white people were able to fight alongside each other. A Black sergeant, Waters, is murdered in 1944 in Louisiana, and local whites are immediately suspected. Washington sends a Black Army lawyer, Captain Davenport, to investigate, and it turns out he's the first Black officer many of the white officers have ever seen.

In the modern play adaptation, Blair Underwood plays the role of Davenport, and just like Howard E. Rollins in the film version, drives the story with his cool-headed interrogation of Black privates and white officers on the base. Similarly, David Alan Grier plays the stage version of Waters, whom Adolph Caesar portrayed in the movie version, revealed in a series of flashbacks as a self-loathing Black man whose despicable nature has given almost everybody a reason to kill him, from the local Klansmen to his own soldiers.

Themes of racism, disharmony, and inequality abound in both the stage and film versions of this classically structured whodunit; however, the nuances in how the stories are told and the audiences for whom they were produced reveal subtle differences. The modern-day version of the play creates allegories that allude to today's heated political climate on race relations.

The temporal structure is also slightly different between each version, with the film using a straightforward juxtaposition between present day and flashbacks while the play keeps Davenport as a storyteller throughout, weaving in and out of past and present-day narratives. Moreover, the nature of the play means audiences watch a wide view of the action from afar while the movie relied on lots of close-up shots to focus audiences on character instead of plot.

All told, the movie and play versions seem to have far more in common than not, but the starkest differences are in how the directors use various storytelling devices to manipulate the audience’s sense of the world, whether it be playing with time, allegories, or creative use of the camera lens.

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