"Court Martial at Fort Devens" - by Jeffrey Sweet - Arlington Friends of the Drama/AFD Theatre (Arlington, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: Trisha Barungi as "Ginny Boyd" in a scene from Jeffrey Sweet's "COURT MARTIAL AT FORT DEVENS" at AFD Theatre in Arlington, MA. until March 17, 2024Photo Credit: Leslie Maiocco)

By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724   

“Joined to get a piece of one war, end up fighting in another. Welcome to the front, Private Boyd!" 

                        - ("Private Curtis") / Jeffrey Sweet 

Arlington Friends of the Drama/AFD Theatre

Presents Jeffrey Sweet's


Written by Jeffrey Sweet

Directed by Lisa Miller-Gillespie 

Cast Includes: Trisha Barungi as "Ginny Boyd," Victoria Lee as "Johnnie Mae," June Dever as "Tenola Stoney," Sally Jean-Baptiste as "Gertrude" and "Ruby," Michelle Mount as "Lawson," Angela Courtney Rossi as "Trainee" and "Eleanor Roosevelt," Paul Benford-Bruce as "Ginny's Father," Rainey" and "Hughes," Jon Nuquist as "Miles" and "Kimball," John Pease as "McCarthy" and "Edwards," Claude Del as "Curtis" and "Steele," Andrew Quinney as "General," Melissa Quirk as "Lieutenant" 

Additional Creative Team:

Production Manager - Susan Harrington; Stage Manager - Sarah O'Neill; Assistant Stage Manager - Melissa Quirk; Military Advisors - Alexis Lane, Nicole McClain; Set Designer - Michelle M. Aguillon; Set Tech - Ken Theriault; Costume Designer - Tree Brock; Costume Team - Isabella Ghiozzi, Andrea Goodman; Makeup and Hair - Jennifer Hurley; Sound Designer - Iain Bason; Lighting Designer - Vyren Grey; Props and Set Dressing - Evelyn Corsini Alcorn, Judy Weinberg and Janice Sophis; Set Crew - Charlie Carr, Jack Ford, Audrey Lewis, Shayna Loeffler, Suzi Lubar, Ken Theriault, Hayley Whelan; Box Office - Clare Livak; Audition Coordinator - Evelyn Corsini Alcorn; Audition Aides - Hayley Whelan, Marcie Theriault, Charlotte Kelley; Casting Committee - Ellen Kazin, Sandy Armstrong, Michelle M. Aguillon, Karen Dervin; Program Cover - Garyfallia Pagonis; Program - Cyngar; Photography - Leslie Maiocco; Social Media - Ginger Webb. 

AFD THEATRE, 22 Academy Street, Arlington, MA. 02476


March 1, 2024 through March 17, 2024

(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)


# 781-646-5922




Contact Venue for Most Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols and Information.

AFD THEATRE has staged an important and impactful production of "COURT MARTIAL AT FORT DEVENS,"  a story of intrepid Black women soldiers at Fort Devens who were recruited and trained as medical technicians.

In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation changing the name of the "Corps" to the Women's Army Corps (aka "WAC"), making it part of the Army

This legislation gave enlisted women all of the rank, privileges, and benefits of their male counterparts.

The Jeffrey Sweet one act drama, as staged and directed by Lisa Miller-Gillespie, is based on a true story of four courageous Black women who enlisted and served in the WAC.

Assigned to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, these Americans chose to be court-martialed rather than report for duty as maids, when they had been recruited and trained as medical technicians. 

As the story unfolds, we watch these committed WACs, Ginny Boyd (Trisha Barungi), Johnnie Mae Murphy (Victoria Lee), Gertrude and Ruby (both portrayed by Sally Jean-Baptiste), get sold a bill of goods to enlist only to have the rug almost immediately pulled right out from under them after they do.

Historically, there were four actual defendants whose names were: Alice Young ("Ginny" in the play), Johnnie Mae Murphy, Mary Green and Anna Morrison, and history...American history...should never forget those names.

Both Barungi and Lee are extremely adept at portraying their respective characters of the fiercely defiant Ginny and highly argumentative, fast-talking Johnnie Mae. Serving as a nice, more sensitive and sympathetic counterbalance to the duo is Jean-Baptiste in the difficult dual or merged role of Gertrude and Ruby.

In the play, Boyd and Mae protest against re-assignment by their racist superior officer, a Colonel Kimball (Jon Nuquist) who reduced them from nursing practices, for which they were qualified, to maintenance labor, keeping them away from aiding white soldiers.

Nuquist has the unenviable task serving as every negative military stereotype, not only appearing as the white racist Colonel but also as his superior officer, General Miles, who is charged with keeping the peace at Fort Devens but is also no ally to the WACs as the story continues.  

The Colonel's ignorant and bigoted reasoning for the reduction in the Black WACs duties stems from his shock at seeing Boyd attending to a white soldier-patient (Andrew Quinney) through a simple act of taking his temperature. 

More information on the Fort Devens incident is found in Sandra Bolzenius' book, "Glory in Their Spirit: How Four Black Women Took on the Army in WWII." 

Briefly, the facts are:

In the Spring of 1944, 60 African American women, all members of a segregated unit of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) in World War II, were sent to Fort Devens, outside of Boston, for training as medical technicians. 

After completing skilled training, their assignment was changed to scrubbing floors. After a courageous decision to go on strike, they were threatened with court-martial. 

Their crime? Insubordination. 

Their defense? They were being discriminated against because of their gender and race.

Sweet's "COURT MARTIAL AT FORT DEVENS" (which pre-dates the Bolzenius' book) focuses on two of the women and their court-martial.

The racial and sexual discrimination displayed, specifically by the Colonel at Fort Devens, comes from a surprising position, holding fast to certain "separatist" beliefs maintained by southern white soldiers being treated at the hospital who would certainly object to being treated by Black nurses.

At first, out of respect for Army, God and Country, the WACs relent and perform their duties but soon, together they realize they must act against the Colonel in order to be allowed to provide the quality of care and treatment to American soldiers they enlisted to perform. 

As the WACs strike, a court-martial follows, as they choose to go to court to fight the obvious racial and sexual discrimination taking place.

(Photo: Claude Del appears as "Curtis" and "Steele" in Jeffrey Sweet's "COURT MARTIAL AT FORT DEVENS" at AFD Theatre in Arlington, MA. until March 17, 2024Photo Credit: Leslie Maiocco)

A personal note: I love courtroom dramas. I find them absolutely riveting. 

From "To Kill a Mockingbirdto "Inherit the Wind" to "The Andersonville Trial" to "Judgment at Nuremberg" or to the jury room drama "12 Angry Men" I will watch these stellar movies any time they are on.

"COURT MARTIAL AT FORT DEVENS" just might be the closest contender to joining the above list of esteemed dramas in quite a while. 

The only thing holding it back from joining that list is that it takes Sweet's drama an enormously long while before we ultimately get to the actual trial. 

The expositive lead-in of prior events is required but literally takes well over an hour before the trial actually begins. What might have helped is beginning with the trial and using flashbacks instead to fill in any gaps.

However, once we are in the courtroom, we are witness to a splendid portrayal of the lawyer sent to defend the WACs on trial. 

Another character witnessing the events unfold is a Private Curtis, portrayed by Claude Del who later also plays president "J.D. Steele" of the Boston chapter of the NAACP. 

Del also begins the show in a brilliantly unconventional and emotional prologue, perfectly setting up the events that will occur.

Steele begrudgingly sends top Boston lawyer, Julian Rainey (Paul Benford-Bruce), to serve as defense. 

Paul Benford-Bruce is outstanding and compelling as Rainey (later appearing as Episcopal Minister "Kenneth Hughes" in a curiously added monologue/sermon).

(Photo:  June Dever as "Tenola Stoney" in a scene from Jeffrey Sweet's "COURT MARTIAL AT FORT DEVENS" at AFD Theatre in Arlington, MA. until March 17, 2024Photo Credit: Leslie Maiocco)

Legally, this trial is for the act of insubordination by the defendants, but morally and ethnically, the "COURT MARTIAL AT FORT DEVENS" is really about race and discriminatory gender bias practices by the military. 

As they fight for their right to perform the duties for which they enlisted, the WACs do have allies in their protest, coming from their immediate WAC superior officers, Lieutenants Stoney (June Dever) and Lawson (Michelle Mount) who also serve at Lovell Hospital on the base.

Dever and Mount give exceptional performances throughout the entire story, showing their own confliction between performing their duty to Army, God and Country AND performing their duty to that which is honorable, highlighting how those two things are not always congruous.

They also have an unexpected ally in FDR's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt (proficiently played by Angela Courtney Rossi) who meets to discuss the trial with Rainey over tea.

An experienced army lawyer, played by John Pease, represents the government. The Colonel is not even present for the trial. 

As Rainey points out during the trial, the United States (at the time) is "the only allied power in the war that segregated its troops."

By the conclusion, what we long for most, of course, is justice for ALL soldiers who were wronged - not just the WACs but soldiers denied proper medical treatment from qualified personnel as a result of a racist policy. 

Sweet asks us the question: Why would the United State Army segregate African Americans in a time of war and continually discriminate against them (i.e. Tuskegee Airmen).

The Black WACs at Fort Devens, therefore, saw the strike as “their best option in a system that failed to adequately recognize them as members of the armed forces.” 

(Photo: Trisha Barungi as "Ginny Boyd" in a scene from Jeffrey Sweet's "COURT MARTIAL AT FORT DEVENS" at AFD Theatre in Arlington, MA. until March 17, 2024Photo Credit: Leslie Maiocco)

The set is intentionally kept to a bare minimum, forcing Sweet's words to become the greatest strength of the production...and they are.

At the opening night performance, there were some occasional line stumbles, pregnant pauses and some elongated moments for required scene changes. 

These minor issues did not detract from the overall impact of what was being presented. 

While the show was staged as one-act running two hours, it really felt as if a lot of that run time could have been reduced with improved pacing.

Costumes for the bulk of the production are well representative of the era in which the story takes place. 

Make-up, particularly for the representation of Eleanor Roosevelt, became a bit over-pronounced at times from the exceptional lighting used in the production.

The addition of archival footage of Fort Devens WAC supplemented the production and gave us a look back at an otherwise proud and formidable legacy.

As Americans returned from fighting a World War against an unjust global threat, on the home front, these courageous Americans on trial in the "COURT MARTIAL AT FORT DEVENS" fought their own battle, showing "power in unity" for integrity and justice.


Coming up next at AFD THEATRE will be a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare's "TWELFTH NIGHT" by Kwame Kwei-Armah & Shaina Taub.

For more information or tickets, contact AFD THEATRE at www.afdtheatre.org/buy-tickets or by calling the box office at # 781-646-5922 or emailing boxoffice@afdtheatre.org.

Approximately two hours with no intermission 

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) 



(Photo: Soldiers of the 6888th marching in formation. Photo Credit: Anonymous (c. 1945). PD-U.S. Government)


In Jeffrey Sweet's "COURT MARTIAL AT FORT DEVENS" when a group of young black women join the Women's Army Corps during WWII, they're promised training as medical technicians. 

But a racist Colonel at Fort Devens has other ideas, and demotes them to cleaning duty. 

The battle of wills leads to a confrontation in which the colonel makes comments so offensive that the WACs pull an immediate strike. 

Though a visiting general is able to compel most of the women to go back to work, two refuse and are held for trial. 

Defended by a civilian lawyer who's never tried a court-martial, they embark on an uphill fight to change the status quo. 

Based on a true story, "COURT MARTIAL AT FORT DEVENS" is a gripping and inspiring drama exploring the complexities of standing up for one's rights. 


ARLINGTON FRIENDS OF THE DRAMA, now known as AFD THEATRE, was founded in 1923 and is one of the ten oldest continually operating community theatre groups in the country. Now located in the former St. John's Episcopal Church, which has been extensively updated and made handicap-accessible.  AFD THEATRE is among the finest area playhouses for actors, directors, production designers and audiences to produce and enjoy live theatre.

About AFD THEATRE Seasons

AFD THEATRE puts on four productions: two musicals and two straight plays. AFD THEATRE holds auditions months ahead, and rehearse evenings and weekends. AFD THEATRE welcomes you to join the fun: help build sets, make costumes, do lights. Usher or sell concessions. AFD THEATRE is a community endeavor that seeks to engage all ages in the fun and exciting act of putting on a play! 


22 Academy Street

Arlington, MA 02476 

# 781-646-5922