Watching a play live streamed under social distancing is an experience indeed. Fort Huachuca was performed at the SheLA Summer Theatre Festival, and it was certainly different. Despite every actor having their own screen, everything was still seamless; the gestures and charisma of the performers enticed me into believing I really was in WWII Louisiana, army base fort Huachuca.
The plot focuses on 5 young women who enlisted in the army and are ready to fight for their country; Texan bred Thelma, living in the moment Marjorie, starry-eyed Mayvee, reserved Georgia and Elinoor. Initially there is a childlike hope, particularly from Elinoor, that this might be a step towards civil rights and an end to segregation, however when they are told that their designated entrance will say ‘coloured’ above the door in bold, capital letters, they discover that not everything does exactly what it says it will do on the tin.
All of the girls, bar Mayvee are assigned as nurses, who was a librarian. The narrative follows them through their lives; firstly training, where they encountered Colonel Rhodes who let them know that contrary to the propaganda-like poetics of unity and desegregation waxed by Colonel Hardy, nothing was going to change. After first making clear that they must always attend to the white man first even if a ‘negro’ is in a worse condition, he happily informed them how there will be no mixing of any kind.
Each woman comes from a different background, which in conjunction with their varied experiences highlight the nuances in the racism discussion. The initial idealist Elinoor soon learns what true inclusion means when she falls in love with a Japanese prisoner, and this creates a big conflict between her and Thelma who believes in segregation because she “don’t want to be sharing the same neighbourhood” as white people. Mayvee is sheltered from the worst of humanity in the library and doesn’t understand why the rest of them think white people are so bad. The strong acting skills made one forget that they aren’t all in the same room - even the physical scenes of aggression were so clearly displayed there wasn’t a second where you were confused about the events unfolding.
All in all, it really made me think. In recent years, there has been an emerging zeitgeist concerning the retelling of history, especially the stuff that was left out of the history books. Although its reach doesn’t compare to that of Snowfall, Hunters or even PeakyBlinders, I found myself inadvertently educated in a manner that didn’t make me feel ashamed for having previously been unaware, something that I think the aforementioned shows accomplish with the same finesse. Shoutout to Ailema Sousa for writing a narrative that was both informative and compelling.