Court-Martial at Fort Devens, by Jeffrey Sweet, tells the true story of a group of African-American women who joined the women's army corps during World War II to be trained as medical assistants, only to be assigned to washing floors and toilets due to a white officer;s racism. The women went on strike; most returned to work when ordered. Two, however, decided to take their chances with a court-martial. (I don't know how much theatrical liberty Sweet took with the story; I do know that the version he tells is convincing.)
|Nambi E. Kelley|
Photo: Gerry Goodstein
The play shows us many brands of heroism. Ginny (beautifully played by Nambi E. Kelley) is a no-nonsense women who cannot back down from what she believes. She's genuinely frightened but moves forward anyway. In contrast, Johnnie Mae (the charming Eboni Witcher) doesn't frighten easily--Ginny describes her as someone who would jump into a pool without checking if there's any water--but she is fully aware of the risk she is taking. The two female lieutenants, Lawson, white (Emma O'Donnell), and Stoney, black (Gillian Glasco), display the heroism of self-control, of putting up with mistreatment now to achieve important goals later. Both O'Donnell and Glasco are superb, subtly revealing the three-dimensional women beneath the discipline and repressed anger.
Watching Court-Martial at Fort Devens is frequently painful and infuriating, and it stays with you. Since seeing it, I've been thinking about the myth of post-racial America. I've been thinking of how far we've come, with a largely well-integrated military. I've been thinking of how far we still have to go, with the Trayvon Martin tragedy being only the most recent proof that America is far from post-racial. I've been thinking of my parent's neighbor, who is incensed at the very idea of a black president. I've been thinking about who the heroes are, and who the villains.
Court-Martial at Fort Devens tells an important story, and the pain of watching it is well-mitigated by the pleasure of the writing, direction, and performances. It's only running through April 1st. If you are interested in serious theatre, it's a must-see.
(press ticket; first row)