by Rew David Greer · November 18, 2013
“Why am I a hero if I die, and a nuisance if I live?” This is the brilliant question Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Charles Fuller asks audiences on behalf of all veterans in his new and disturbing drama One Night…
One Night… is a new play commissioned by The Cherry Lane Theatre, located in the West Village. It has streaks of brilliance and a riveting performance by its leading actress Rutina Wesley. Fuller’s script manipulates the audience during the hour and forty five minute production (no intermission). We are charmed by its villains, sickened by its heroes, and continually burdened with every shocking truth revealed over the course of an ever escalating night that will not leave a single character in the play unscathed.
Two Iraq War veterans spend one night in a seedy motel room trying to comfort each other after their apartment mysteriously burns down. Haunted by the war, the two vets Alicia (Wesley) and Horace (Grantham Coleman) can barely have a conversation without suffering severe flashbacks of their time in the “Sandbox.”
Over the course of the night we learn that Alicia not only dealt with the usual horrors all soldiers face, but with the added pains and prejudices of being a woman in the army. When Alicia was still serving her country; three soldiers raped her one night and were never punished for it. Alicia’s complaints were met with hostility from commanding officers. According to one Army Major, she shouldn’t even be here in the first place. His deluded reasoning is if women weren’t allowed in the army, this never would have happened. Yet again, it is the woman who is blamed for her own rape (a tragic story told with too much familiarity), resulting in the breakup of her marriage, loss of her child, and mental instability.
The only ally Alicia has is Horace, a former sniper who is also still stuck in the “Sandbox,” whether he wants to admit it or not. Perhaps he’s helping her as a way to deal with and get over his own psychological issues or perhaps his reasons go deeper than that. The incendiary conclusion of One Night… answers that question.
Director Clinton Turner Davis is tasked with presenting One Night… a play with seemingly hundreds of themes and presenting it so as to highlight the most important and disturbing ones in the forefront of the performance. Overall he is successful, but at times even Davis can’t contain this script jam packed with ideas, so occasional moments are as muddled and confusing as a battle. While some flashbacks are presented as video projections, others are by actors onstage; the production doesn’t seem to have a uniform way of presentation and may take avid theatre goers out of the moment.
The ensemble of One Night… is simply tremendous. Rutina Wesley is simply brilliant as the disturbed Alicia G. Taking on the character’s complexities and playing them with ease and believability made me leave the theatre with her work at the forefront of my mind. Cortez Nance Jr. was charming as the overly-friendly motel manager Meny. His quirky, but believable choices made him a welcome presence every time he graced the stage. K.K. Moggie and Matthew Montelongo served the play well as a mix of characters from the past and the present. Grantham Coleman gave a serviceable performance as Horace, but seemed to lack the conviction of his character in his most dramatic moments. Powerful moments were reduced to stagey temper tantrums that just didn’t ring true. It is in Coleman’s tender and vulnerable moments that we see his electricity as an actor. It also makes me want to see him cast in more likeable roles in the future. Both stars of One Night… Welsey and Coleman seem to have bright careers ahead of them, and I can’t wait to see their growth as actors.
Fuller “continues to urge his audiences to reject old images and stereotypes in order to accept realistic black characters.” His mission is clearly accomplished by his body of work, especially his most famous work, A Soldier’s Story. The ambitious playwright doesn’t stop there. Fuller hits the nail on the head and encapsulates the feelings of vets with heartbreaking and poignant lines of dialogue like Horace’s reply to Alicia’s admission that she could never love him. His reply, “I’m some kind THING – beyond redemption?”
The theme that you only hurt who you try to help when your help comes with hidden motives is an important life lesson for Fuller to teach. One that feels repetitive and yet here we are, still in need of that lesson. One Night… fights to keep our damaged servicemen and women and their troubles from being swept under the rug of our public consciousness.