As African Americans, we have a responsibility to learn about black history, whether it’s February or not. We need to know about those who have come and gone before us. We need to know that, even though we have things easier now, they weren’t always so just a couple decades ago.
In the latest African American Performing Arts Community Theater (AAPACT) play, Camp Logan, the actors explore just how important it is to know where we have come from. For this feat, AAPACT President, CEO, and in-house director Teddy Harrell Jr. turned to Celeste Bedford Walker’s NAACP award winning play. Camp Logan is currently being performed at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center’s Wendell Narcisse Theater and will continue until April 16.
In Camp, five colored soldiers, Joseph Moses (Marcell Black), Gweely Brown (Finley Polynice), Jacques Honore (Kristoff Skalet), Robert Franciscus (Anthony Roberts), and Charles Hardin (Barry Gibbs), are stationed at Camp Logan after hunting for rebel Pancho Villa in the New Mexican desert. While at Logan, they must deal with the cultural clash of segregation in the Jim Crow South, while anxiously waiting for their company to be shipped to France to fight the enemy in World War I. While waiting for their orders, the men spend their days going into the nearby town of Houston, Texas, and having a good time. But, the white citizens of Houston are appalled that these African-American soldiers would be allowed to mix and mingle with them.
“Some of the things I say disgust me,” said Hialeah born, Rene Granado, who plays Captain Zuelke, the head of the colored soldiers at Camp Logan. Granado’s Captain Zuelke appears to be fighting for the colored soldiers in the beginning of the play. It becomes apparent, however, that Zuelke is just trying to placate the minority soldiers to keep them from rising up against him.
If only the racism of Houston hadn’t boiled over and spilled into Camp Logan. On August 23, 1917, a white mob stormed the camp to teach the colored soldiers a lesson about staying in their place. This turned into the 1917 Camp Logan Riot that would leave 15 whites, including 4 white policemen, dead.
“The first time Rene put his hands on me and touched me with that whip, I was like ‘Okay,’” said Andre Gainey, giving a definitive nod of his head. “It really gave me permission to hate this man.” Gainey’s Sargeant McKinney, a father-figure to his company, led the men against the white mob that stormed Camp Logan.
As one Hispanic audience member stated about the seven man cast: “Every character in this piece shined.” This isn’t an understatement. One of the luxuries of performing in a small theater is having the action up-close and personal. The emotion conveyed by the actors is too in-your-face to ignore. The drawback to such a small theater, though, is that sitting in the front row guarantees too much up-close action for comfort.
But, I digress.
Gainey, a standing member of AAPACT, brings McKinney’s inner turmoil to life, if maybe a little too method. Speaking of method, Skalet went above and beyond to play the New Orleans native, Jacques. Skalet’s accent seemed to be a little unsure of itself; flip-flopping between a Haitian dialect and sounding like an “Everyman African-American.”
Granado’s southern dialect surprised me the most. As a Hispanic man who grew up in Hialeah, Granado transforms himself into Capt. Zuelke, a southern, closeted, supremacist posing as a put-upon do-boy for the racist Colonel Gentry, who is in charge of the entire camp.
Black’s Joe is the northerner hothead of the company, stirring up trouble to fight against racism every chance he gets. He really is an angry black man. Polynice’s portrayal of Brown is middling. He didn’t do much with the character; just played Brown straight from the script. Polynice’s blocking is obviously not his strong point.
Roberts, on the other hand, gives Franciscus just the right amount of leadership for his role. The way he walks and posts up on his bunk bed screams of self discipline and control. Young Gibbs’ Hardin appears to be not much of a stretch for the novice actor. Two years out of Michael Krop High School’s Star Magnet Program, Gibbs is coming into his own and pretty good at not breaking character. Gibbs has a future as an actor as long as he does not pigeonhole himself into the lanky kid roles.
Of the plays that I have seen performed by AAPACT, Camp Logan is its best. So, take a trip to the Cultural Arts Center and be enthralled by the interesting history that is our history.
Kimberly Grant may be reached at KAliciaG@aol.com