Tuesday, September 17

Reynolds portrays ‘buffalo soldier’


Reynolds portrays ‘buffalo soldier’

Play takes look at African-American soldiers’ experience in the
Civil War

By Adeline Yee

Soap opera star James Reynolds of "Days of Our Lives" is a busy
man.

Reynolds has logged more total hours on television than any
other African-American actor in the United States. He feels two
different ways about this, however.

"On one hand, I feel wonderful … but on the other hand, I
think it’s a shame there hasn’t been more African-American actors
on television," Reynolds says.

Aside from ‘Days,’ Reynolds is starring in Mitch Hale’s "Buffalo
Soldier" ­ a play about the freed slaves of the Civil War,
enlisted by the U.S. Army to fight the Native Americans on the
frontier.

"Not many people know that the Buffalo Soldiers probably were a
third of the soldiers in the Old West," Reynolds says.

Nicknamed by the Native Americans for their ferocity in battle,
the Buffalo Soldiers rode out into the homelands of the Cheyenne,
Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, and many others in the Midwest. Issues of
genocide and racial prejudice are explored in the play, as these
soldiers were trained to kill for the "white man."

"It was hard (for the Buffalo Soldiers) because they were
charged with protecting people who despised them and did nothing to
make their lives easier," Reynolds says.

Having served three years in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine, Reynolds
plays the equivalent as First Sergeant Isaac Williams ­ a
soldier so caught up in his duty that he becomes "blind to his own
hatred and prejudice." Because African-Americans were oppressed by
the whites, they then become the oppressors of the Native
Americans.

"His way of dealing with racism around him is to become a
stronger racist … and hence, has this mistaken belief," says
Reynolds about his theatrical role.

Director/Executive Producer Jeff Murray sees the connection
between "Buffalo Soldier" and society today, with racial tensions
still an issue of concern.

"The politics of race are central to L.A. and to the country at
large," Murray says. "I feel that ‘Buffalo Soldier’ is one of the
more serious scripts that connects to this community and addresses
this issue without the usual gang (scene)."

Having been friends for more than 13 years, Murray finds working
with Reynolds enjoyable. "Jim (is the right person for this role)
because he’s a very intelligent and successful African American who
knows the price individuals have to pay to play the politics in
America," Murray says.

Though Reynolds has been in the acting business for 20 years, he
wasn’t always on the Hollywood track. He majored in pre-law and
journalism at Topeka Washburn University, and later wrote for
several newspapers on theater, film and music.

"I enjoyed writing," Reynolds recalls, "but the one thing I
really disliked was deadlines."

Now in his early 40s, Reynolds has been acting on the daytime
soap opera series "Days of Our Lives" as Commander Abe Carver. This
year being his 12th season on the show, Reynolds’ current storyline
involves actress Renee Jones who plays his wife, also known as
"sexy Lexie."

His real life wife, Lissa Layng doesn’t mind the love scenes,
however.

"So far she’s been really good about it, so it hasn’t been a
problem," Reynolds assures.

In addition to television and theater, Reynolds tours college
campuses around the country in his one-man show "I, Too, Am
America." For over 10 years now, Reynolds has put together a
collage of African American poetry and readings of actual
experiences of people, from slavery to the civil rights
struggle.

"(Racism) evolves from a lack of understanding and a lack of
education … this creates fear which comes in many forms,"
Reynolds says. "There’s the fear (of other races) taking your job,
but basically there’s the fear of the unknown."

THEATER: "Buffalo Soldier," Theatre Theater, 1713 Cahuenga
Blvd., Hollywood. Wednesday-Friday, 8 p.m. Ends April 7. $15-$20.
(213) 850-6941. (Students who mention the Daily Bruin receive
special discount ­ buy one, get one free.)

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