Review: Court Martial at Fort Devens

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[Theater: Review]

Court Martial at Fort Devens by Jeffrey Sweet opens with Colonel Kimball, a prejudiced officer, setting the stage for the play’s main conflict.

Although women have been recruited to serve during WW II, African-American women find themselves revolting to protest unfair work practices. Colonel Kimball says, “Instead of fighting Hitler.  I’m here.  Your actions have brought me here!” 

So we see the court martial in play form, and the brilliant performances of the cast bring the audience to the brink of our seats.  We are angry.  We are outraged by what we see on stage.  I am not even calm when I hear Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” 

The Armed Services violates its promise to train African-American women to become nurses. The writer changes their white training outfits to blue janitor garb. Then, the colonel’s words invite the audience to see how African-American newly recruited soldiers fare in the Women’s Army Corps ( WACs).  What do they get for their spunk?  They end up being court martialed.
Jeffrey Sweet, the playwright, goes back into time to find out how these women are being court martialed. One character says, referring to a superior office, “I tried to talk to him.  Permission to speak, sir.  It was denied.”  These women are voiceless.  The actresses give them brave voices, however.

At first these WACs are training to become nurses and they wear white uniforms.  Then, Colonel Kimball sees one of the "Colored" nurses sticking a thermometer into a White soldier’s mouth.  He objects, and demotes the African-American women to cleaning toilets, mopping floors, and washing clothes.  The women revolt, and African-American newspapers carry the story – blow by blow.

In time these women are found guilty at the court martial.  Later Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt has their sentences commuted with her husband’s influence.  They are free, and Sweet resurrects their stories.  If you have experienced racial segregation, this play touches sore places in the heart. 

In the background there is the letter “V” for “victory.  My husband’s grandmother said that African – American people used the double “V.”  Her sons fought for victory over the Nazis and for a victory over segregation.  Women and men were less successful in winning the second victory. Sweet’s  play is one that all should see.  

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