How are the play and film versions of A Soldier's Play similar and different? Which version do you prefer?

Quick answer:

While the film version of A Soldier's Play is faithful to the original, the two different in how abstract or realistically they present the action of the story. One's preference will undoubtedly be swayed by how effective one finds the different presentations.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Norman Jewison film A Soldier's Story is a very close adaptation of Charles Fuller's A Soldier's Play . The sequence of events largely plays out in the same order and all of the characters are portrayed exactly as they are in the play version. The differences mainly come...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

down to the contrast between mediums: film is more realistic by its very nature, whereas theater tends to be more abstract.

One big difference between the play and the movie is the way scenes are staged. The play all takes place on one set, with past episodes playing side by side with the "present-day" characters as they discuss their impressions of Waters or the other characters. This reinforces the fluidity between the past and the present, showing how someone's past can continue to affect them strongly. The only scene where the movie plays with this sort of staging is during Waters's description of the Black soldier he helped murder in Paris during World War I: the camera closes in on Waters and the scenery around him fades to black, creating a sense of the stage version's temporal fluidity and abstraction.

Otherwise, the film version lays scenes out more or less realistically. Davenport travels around the military base to talk to different people. Instead of keeping all the action within one location, the film shows different parts of the base to keep the setting more varied. Movies adaptations of plays try to avoid being criticized for "stagey-ness," that is, making a movie too talk-heavy and with little sense of action.

Preference for the stage or film version will depend upon the individual. One might like the more abstract presentation within the play or the more realistic version as laid out by the movie. The stylistic difference between the two says much about how another medium can make the same story appear quite different.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss how the play version and film adaptation of A Soldier's Play are similar or how they differ.

One difference between the stage version and the movie version is the name. The play is called A Soldier’s Play. The movie is called A Soldier's Story. This difference might seem cosmetic or superficial, yet the switch from “Play” to “Story” seems to prepare the viewer for the differences. It tells the viewer that they’re watching a relatively more popular, more mainstream genre—i.e., a movie. Alas, the viewer should get ready for some of the common devices that tend to be found in mainstream movies, including slow motion.

You might have noticed multiple slow-motion moments in A Soldier’s Story. When the Sergeant is first shot at the beginning of the film, the director, Norman Jewison, employs slow motion. When CJ hits a home run, Jewison again uses slow motion. In the play, of course, there is no slow motion.

Another difference is the end. In the play, the conclusion comprises Davenport telling the audience what happened. Peterson was captured one week later in Alabama. Davenport never confronts Peterson directly like he does in the movie. In the film, as you might remember, Davenport not only faces Peterson, but he lectures him. He tells Peterson he doesn’t get to “judge” who does and does not qualify as Black.

As for similarities, there are quite few. Perhaps that’s because Charles Fuller, the playwright, wrote the film adaptation as well.

The film keeps the nonlinear narrative. As with the play, it jumps back and forth between the present and the past.

It also keeps the highly radicalized language. This might be notable because recent mainstream films—like Green Book—have been criticized for portraying race in a rather censored, whitewashed way.

Lastly, the film preserves the musical aspect. Although, in the play, the song “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” is used multiple times. In the movie, you might only hear the song once. Although, as you might recall, you will hear several other songs. The opening song, for instance, is sung by the famous Patti LaBelle.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Identify one area where you think the film adaptation of A Soldier's Play succeeds over the written play. Reflect on which version that you prefer.

You could identify the nonlinear structure of the story as more successful in the film than in the play. You might say that the clear flashbacks and scene cuts make the back-and-forth between past and present easier to understand. In the play, time seems to be marked by the presence of the Sergeant. It’s almost as if he imposes himself on the present. In the film, the boundaries seem better defined.

You could also say that the film is more successful in including a greater range of musical genres. The play mainly focuses on “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” The film brings in soul music, blues, jazz, and some brief gospel music.

You might also argue that the film is more successful in contextualizing the pervasiveness of racism. You could say the film does a better job of detailing the extent of Louisiana’s prejudices. Remember, when Davenport first arrives on the bus, the bus driver refers to him as “boy.” He also receives hateful stares from the white people in town. More so, when Davenport is on the army base, someone writes “welcome snow flake” on a bathroom mirror.

If I had to reflect on which one I’d prefer, I’d choose the play. It struck me as more subtle and ambiguous. Yet that just happens to be my opinion. What matters is which one you prefer.

Last Updated on