The sound of soldiers marching in place while breathing in unison could be heard in the darkness. The lights slowly rose revealing five black soldiers, dressed in uniform awaiting orders. The audience inside of the black box theatre fell silent, while patiently waiting for the story to unfold.
On May 18th The West Coast Premiere of the new play “Camp Logan” was shown to an excited audience. Written by Celeste Bedford Walker, Directed by Alex Morris, Produced by Robey Theatre Company, Sparkling City Entertainment and Juvee Productions in association with Latino Theater Company. The show was held at the beautiful Los Angeles Theatre Center, in downtown Los Angeles.
The dimly lit stage allowed the audience to become voyagers of the past. The play recreated 1917 Texas, on a military base near Houston which housed the Black 24th Infantry. A group of five soldiers moved about their barracks while excitedly discussing the opportunity to fight in France. Initially the soldiers welcomed the ability to interact with other minority civilians in the area, they playfully engaged in banter regarding the women that captured their attention near the camp. Their times of laughter somehow reflected the small doses of normalcy that real soldiers experience on a military base. After shaving and polishing their shoes, the soldiers departed the stage in pursuit of a good time in town.
Seconds later the theatre went black and intense photos were projected on a screen. Images showing signs that read “Whites ONLY water fountain,” pictures of white teenage men holding signs that read “No Negros Allowed.” Several audience members shook their head while looking at a time period that wreaked havoc on humanity. The lights rose and the soldiers returned to camp baring faces of frustration, anger and defeat. Each recounted stories of an evening plagued with racism from both city officials and civilians. Out of the shadows appeared two military officials; Sgt McKinney, the direct official over the 24th Infantry and the condescending person of power, Zuelke.
Both men chastised the group of soldiers regarding their conduct in town with civilians. Despite the soldiers recounting stories of racially charged acts against them, the commanders refused to retreat. Throughout the play, the audience witnessed soldiers endure moments of turmoil, unjustified accusations, mental breakdowns and degrading blackface skits for entertainment; all while anxiously awaiting the opportunity to serve and fight for their country in France.
Tensions continued to rise with the soldiers and unseen white civilians, who refused to abide by any rules enforced by an on duty black soldier. Rumors of a white lynch mob attacking the base made the soldiers uneasy and concerned about their safety. During a conversation between Sgt. McKinney and Zuelke, an explosive revelation was revealed. The 24th Infantry would not be going to war to fight in France. As Sgt McKinney protested the decision, Zuelke made a statement that reinforced his power, “Boy, do not question me. They’re not going.” He also demanded that all riffles be removed from the barracks, in the event that any white teenagers “posing” as a mob wouldn’t get hurt.
In a moment of personal conviction Sgt. McKinney came to the aid of his soldiers and did what he determined was necessary to protect them, he allowed them to maintain possession of their riffles. After learning that they would not be sent to France, the soldiers marched out of the camp with their heads held high to defend their lives and beliefs.
The theatre embraced darkness once again as the projector revealed the consequences of the soldier’s actions two years later. After viewing real photos of the 24th infantry’s trial, the audience was confronted with the most powerful visual yet. Unexpectedly in the top left corner of the stage, a green light showed the silhouette of four men who appeared to be standing on planks with ropes around their necks. Soft whimpers could be heard in the audience as a natural reaction to the compelling visual. As the men began to sing a hymn, they met their fate and the light turned red as their bodies appeared lifelessly swinging from right to left.
Without a doubt, Camp Logan accurately portrays the human desire and will to fight for personal beliefs despite adverse circumstances. The play runs until May 27 Thurs- Sat at 8, Sun at 3. Order tickets: http://thelatc.org/2012/shows/camp-logan/