The Tony and Pulitzer Award-winning play, A Soldier’s Play, comes to Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre (Jan. 24th to Feb. 5th) for a two-week engagement. Presented by The Shubert Organization and the Kimmel Cultural Campus, the play was also written by late Philadelphia playwright, Charles Fuller. Below, cast member Branden Davon Lindsay (Private Louis Henson) discusses his role in the play and performing for the playwright’s hometown audience. Lindsay is is a recent graduate from NYU Grad Acting and is making his National tour debut in A Soldier’s Play.
Q: Tell us a bit about the character you play in A Soldier’s Play?
A: I play Private Louis Henson who is one of the members of the 221st Smoke Generating Company in the play. He is also the pitcher on the company’s elite baseball team. Henson is a very opinionated and relatable character in the story. He’s someone who can have a sharp tongue at times and definitely not afraid to speak his mind. I think his rebel nature stems from him being a product of his environment. Surrounded by racism, lynchings, and the overall struggles of Black people have caused him to become a very guarded individual at times. That really reveals itself through his relationship with the officers of higher rank in the story. When it comes to the barracks, he shares a really special and beautiful bond with his fellow brothers in arms. He is the glue that keeps everyone together through jokes, laughter, and dancing. During the investigation of Sargent Waters Death, his objective is to protect them and himself at all cost.
Q: Were you familiar with the story before joining the cast? How did you prepare for this role?
A: I was familiar with the story mostly because of the film adaptation, A Soldier’s Story, with Denzel Washington and their incredible cast. I remember watching it growing up, but I never got a chance to watch the Broadway production of the play. So, when I received the audition for this tour, I finally got a chance to sit down and read the play for the first time. I was blown away by how powerful Charles Fuller’s words are, how much they resonated with me, and how relevant the story is still to this day. My process included doing research on the history of baseball and the Negro League, military training during that time, and finding ways to personally connect with Henson. I created a playlist of music with artist that I believe he may have listened to, and really took time to just breath and ask myself how can, I as the performer, be of service to Henson. Making sure I’m grounded in his personal story so that the audience sees less of Branden the actor and more of Henson, this incredible and complex character.
Q: In 2021, you were part of The Public Theatre’s Free Shakespeare in the Park. What’s something you learned from those performances that you now take on the road with you?
A: I learned a lot from working in the Park. Merry Wives was such a special production. Not only because of the incredible cast and production team, but also because we were really the first show to premiere right after the pandemic. There was something special/ historic about bringing live theater back to New York City. I think the most important thing I learned during that process is to expect the unexpected. What makes theater so incredible is that it’s live. Whatever you bring to the table that particular afternoon/ evening is what the audience will receive. So definitely giving yourself grace while also leaving yourself space to find nuance within the character and the story is so important.
Q: A Soldier’s Play was written by late Philadelphia playwright Charles Fuller. How do you feel about performing his work to a hometown audience?
A: I’m honestly honored and blessed to be a part of this production where we can bring life to Charles Fullers incredible writing. The icing on the cake is that we can do it in his hometown. His work is so important and needed in a world where we are constantly trying to find ways to get better, and most importantly do better. I also find it special that I get a chance to work with Eugene Lee (Waters) who was a part of helping to cultivate the story with Charles Fuller in its beginning stages. It’s like having a cheat code and a human encyclopedia all in one. The one thing that I will take with me throughout my journey with this play and the rest of my career is something Eugene said when the play was read out loud for the first time. He said that once everyone finished reading it there was an understanding that Charles Fullers words are enough. If you just say the play out loud without even acting it out, the weight of the story can hold itself up. You just have to trust it!
Q: What do you hope audiences take away from this production?
A: My hope is that audiences receive the powerful messages highlighted within Charles Fullers work. I hope that people can resonate with the characters and even see themselves in each character. Our incredible director, Kenny Leon, has directed a visionary piece of storytelling where our humanity is being seen and also challenged. I hope people can learn, heal, and in the process go out and decide to make change.
A Soldier’s Play is a ‘whodunit’ murder mystery set on a Louisiana Army base and addresses racial conversations and relationships in the military. For more information and tickets, visit the Kimmel Cultural Campus website.