The Theatre Tattler reviews The Buffalo Hero Of WWI

The Buffalo Hero Of WWI: The Wayne Minor Story written & directed by Kenthedo Robinson
American Theatre of Actors
314 W. 54th Street
Dec 7-18th 2022

A review by Yvonne Tutelli, The TheatreTattler

Every now and then one sees an Off or Off-Off Broadway piece really worthy a longer run, a more lavish production, and audiences who realize: this is a piece of history which will go forgotten if not further produced. That is the story quality of this farreaching play, with strong and defined performances I was fortunate to experience on its opening night.

The Buffalo Soldiers were originally 10th Calvary Regiment members of the U.S Army hailing from Ft Leavenworth, Kansas, and the name was borne of the Native American tribes who fought the Black Cavalry in the Indian Wars. It said that their name emanated from the Indians admiration of their buffalo lined coats, or was a reference to their nappy hair. This play is a story of some of the original calvary’s descendants, some some 50 years after the six all Black regiments were formed via the Army Organization Act in 1866.

The soldiers in this play were proud descendants of these men who protected the plains. Wayne Minor, played glowingly by actor Alton Ray, is a soldier who heeded the call of duty from his hometown of Kansas City, serving in the 92nd Division, 366 Infantry of World War I. We are introduced to Mama Minor and Wayne early on, before Wayne’s departure. Between them is a strong bond and love of God, country and faith. Much of the 14-scened play is related through correspondence between mother and son, chronicling events in the barracks, back at home, and finally to and from the front in France.

Woodrow Wilson is President and its 1917. The characters meet while departing from Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. The soldiers have enlisted and are reporting for duty for a front in France they will not see for over a year. Their ordeal is the play’s tale
which Kenthedo Robinson masterfully weaves for us after years of research in telling it as it occurred. Franklin B. Seymour (Michael Julius) is the Howard University educated enlistee, a solider who lost his entire family in the storied Houston riot of 1917, when soldiers from Camp Logan retaliated against the Houston Police Department. He wears his understandably deserved indignance on his sleeve, and Julius plays him as guardedly wounded and volatile, in such a way the audience cannot predict his behavior. Stunning performance.

I spent my high school years in Houston–we certainly did not learn about Camp Logan–or the reasons behind the inciting of the army soldiers there. So thus another reason for my case of more plays about race history not being a rarity. When we are taught only one side of things we cannot discern the injustice that was and still is at the root of the racial disparities and injustice which are actively a part of the history we are creating now.

At Union Station we also meet Rafius Rucker (Kazzime Fofana). Tall, strong and jovial, Fofana’s portrayal of Rucker takes us on his emotional journey, from a innocent father of to a crumpled mess of a man, fighting for survival. Fofana’s physical embodiment of Rucker, through all of his struggling changes will not be soon forgotten. Angelica (Shani Tabia) greets the new enlistees and their superiors with her sweet upbeat character, a song and dance performer by night, Angelica lends a hopeful note to Buffalo Heroes. Because of her skin color, she is not allowed to actually work for the Red Cross. Despite this, she continues her service to the soldiers. Angelica is constant, quick-witted and never stops her crusade to serve the soldiers. Tabia plays her as a fullhearted compassionate angel, flirtatious and real; an angel of mercy. Excellence is in the house!

The despicable Captain Quincy Blu (Nicholas Dodge) shows his cards at the initial train station meeting. A tormented racist bigot, Captain Blu’s got a background to why he is the way he is but that’s a story for you to see and not mine to tell. Each time
Captain Blue steps onstage I found myself detesting him more and more. He repeatedly put men’s lives on the line because of his own twisted prejudice and small mindedness. Dodge carried this role off with great aplomb, convincingly real. As Lieutenant Clark, actor Myles Marable plays the seesaw of Army protocol balanced against the indignities his men must suffer at the hands of Captain Blue. They are untrained, kept in the barracks and ammunition room without uniforms, underfed– without dignity for their service simply because of the color of their skin. Like the other well-rounded actors/characters in this piece, Marable, as Lt. Clark shines brightest when standing up for his men and the insufferable way they are treated. Marable plays the full
arc of his character to the hilt.

The play is well crafted in every way. The prologue between mother and son, and the train station scene–set up the audience for a historical ride detailing the courage and soul of one Wayne Minor, a dedicated Buffalo Soldier to the bitter end, dying from battle wounds only 3 hours after the Armistice agreement was signed November 11, 1918. Alton Ray, as Minor, seamlessly embodies the naivete, betrayal, goodness, faith and pride for country that made the relationships with the rest of the ensemble come alive.

And a note on Ms D as Mama Minor: Her character is the glue of the show. Through her we feel a mothers fear, faith, and finally, acceptance of her beloved son’s fate. Ms D. knocked it out of the park with her portrayal of the mother of her hero son, Wayne;
soulful and poignant.

Kudos to techies Mark Robinson (Sound and Projection) and Michael Banks (Lighting) for their contributions to he authenticity of this piece, as well as to James Jennings, ATA founder, for his producorial part in it.

I truly want to say this is a play that should not be missed. The Buffalo Hero of World War I, The Wayne Minor story has much to teach us about the impact of hate and misunderstanding. History, when not corrected, when unlearned, repeats itself.

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