My arrival at the American Theatre of Actors was memorable. It is a space this reviewer, as an actor, has performed at some time ago. At the end of the hallway, I was told there were two performances. The man at the box office informed me, The Buffalo Hero of WWI, was cancelled due to a sick Lighting Person, or Sound Person. The actors and crew only learned about it an hour before. Before I left, I told the friendly box office volunteer I was here to “review the show”. He allowed me to go in for what would be a dress rehearsal. The first time the cast would be in the bigger theater.
My first impression as the only audience member, until there were two when my friend arrived; I was impressed with the changes in this theater. The last time I was in this space, a few years ago, there was no balcony or spiral staircase. What a great space, and doing my own plays there, danced in my mind.
I walked in early enough to catch the Writer/Director, Kenthedo Robinson, a truly talented man. Also, the Lighting Technician and various cast members preparing. Ms. D (Mamma Miner) being in full rehearsal on her own.
The assistant, whom, I’m sorry to say, I did not remember to identify between Mark Robinson or Michael Banks. One was absent and they are both noted, respectively, in the playbill as Sound, Lighting and Projection. The playbill lists them both twice each. If the gentleman there was another person, it is not noted, or one is not identified in the paper playbill.
During this dress rehearsal, the lights were used, and the sound was spoken, by the assistant (on book), when there was no sound set-up.
The missing person, and the cancelation of the performance for audience, much like sound and a missing props, here and there, marked the overall performance. It is an interesting true story of Wayne Miner, the last soldier killed in World War I. Mr. Miner was an African American Kansas City fallen Buffalo Soldier Hero. Mr. Miner was boldly portrayed by the handsome and excellent actor, Alton Ray. He fit what I would imagine this hero to be, a strong performance in every way.
The cast is strong, throughout, and Mr. Ray I would say a great lead for this play. All entrances and characters were strongly identified by the actors. Particularly in Act I. Some small uneven moments in scenes as the play progressed, not as distracting to most audience members, I would think. Just as a theatre professional, fixable with tightening; the unevenness could be removed by a bit more focus to the story. Michael Julius who had a wonderfully diverse character as Franklin B. Seymour, fantastically portrayed an act of being abused very well. Yet, in describing the actual horrid act by fellow white soldiers, he lost a bit of the anger of the act. Where it seemed his anger should be growing, his ebbed during the description of the act. The event that drove him to the anger. I would have liked to see that description itself to be expressed even more strongly. Julius chose to express it more like an observer, at the moment, it would seem better to grow more there, instead of using it as calm recall.
Kassime Fofana, as Rafius Rucker, driven into shell shock and fear and cheating on his wife, was fully a great performance into this type of mental illness. There were a couple of moments, seeing the true angst on his face, softened into clear vision. I would have liked to see the incredible coming insane fear stay on his face until his decision to do what he must do, to end his internal terror.
Some may be excused due to last minute changes; for example, coming ready to perform for an audience and ending up in a dress rehearsal. Secondly, moving from a smaller space to a much bigger space. Considering this, the cast, without full sound and having some of it just being read from the front row out of the script, it was excellent. There were only a few small stops and delays, to find a missing prop or get to the right light cue.
They ran almost straight through, with a needed intermission. I would say the ending was a bit lengthy. I would not want to have missed the information, yet it felt like The Buffalo Here of WWI could have been shorter, a little long to get to the end.
Nicolas Dodge as Captain Quincy Blu is to be commended for his performance as the prejudiced, closed-minded Captain! His changes felt natural and never broke who he was as a person. He was truly the guy you hate, and eventually, almost understood he was merely the victim of his time and may have changed by the end of the war. Maybe he told the story of these men he lost?
Ms. D played way beyond her years. I felt every time she was on stage. I felt the love for her son. And if not for her performance, I would have thought, she is too young to be the mother she portrayed.
Shani Tabia as Angelica was a joy every time, she entered the stage. Her energy was the glue and if there were any lags, her performance brought up the room. Overall, the energy of all the actors was fantastic. Ms. Tabia had this and more reminding us of our purpose, no matter what others may say. That can do and will do attitude.
Although this about a time before any of us were born. It is proof that we have not grown as much as we’d like to believe. How history, in some ways, repeats itself and even though, from the prejudice Captain Quincy Blu to the ideology of Myles Marable as Lt. Clark guiding us so beautifully, as our guru of taking people from where they are and guiding them to illuminating where we can be, with one step at a time. Marable played that he, as this character, would, ideally, have written this story of the possibilities of the future by meeting people where they are.