• The audience and performers applaud Sgt. Mario Ward, 546th Maintenance Co., who directed the Basra Gospel Choir's performance of "Fannie Mae's Café," a play he also wrote, including several musical pieces, at the Contingency Operating Base Basra Town Hall, March 19, 2010.

    Gospel Choir keeps the audience, messages rolling

    The audience and performers applaud Sgt. Mario Ward, 546th Maintenance Co., who directed the Basra Gospel Choir's performance of "Fannie Mae's Café," a play he also wrote, including several musical pieces, at the Contingency Operating Base Basra Town...

  • Pastor Waters (right), played by Staff Sgt. Altierre Q. Bell 14th Border Transition Team, counsels Roderick (left), played by Staff Sgt. Jose Rios, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, a Philadelphia native, during a pause in which the other characters on the stage are frozen in place, interrupting a moment of questioning his life by Roderick to remind him anything can be turned around through faith, during the Basra Gospel Choir's performance of "Fannie Mae's Café," at the Contingency Operating Base Basra Town Hall, March 19, 2010.

    Gospel Choir keeps the audience, messages rolling

    Pastor Waters (right), played by Staff Sgt. Altierre Q. Bell 14th Border Transition Team, counsels Roderick (left), played by Staff Sgt. Jose Rios, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, a Philadelphia native, during a...

  • Roderick (far right), played by Staff Sgt. Jose Rios, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, a Philadelphia native, is told his input isn't wanted by Samantha, played by 1st Lt. Shamika Hill, 367th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, a Columbus, Ohio native, while Fannie Mae, Samantha's mother, played by Maniececia Peterson, 256th Signal Company, 17th Fires Brigade, a Memphis, Tenn. native, discusses a business proposal with Samantha and Mr. Raphaellosso (left), played by Spc. Andrez Powell, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 130th Aviation Regiment, a Raleigh N.C. native, during the Basra Gospel Choir's performance of "Fannie Mae's Café," at the Contingency Operating Base Basra Town Hall, March 19, 2010.

    Gospel Choir keeps the audience, messages rolling

    Roderick (far right), played by Staff Sgt. Jose Rios, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, a Philadelphia native, is told his input isn't wanted by Samantha, played by 1st Lt. Shamika Hill, 367th Mobile Public...

  • Members of the Basra Gospel Choir join in a prayer before a performance of the play "Fannie Mae's CafAfA," at the Contingency Operating Base Basra Town Hall, March 19, 2010. The play was written and directed by Sgt. Mario Ward, 546th

    Gospel Choir keeps the audience, messages rolling

    Members of the Basra Gospel Choir join in a prayer before a performance of the play "Fannie Mae's CafAfA," at the Contingency Operating Base Basra Town Hall, March 19, 2010. The play was written and directed by Sgt. Mario Ward, 546th

  • Fannie Mae (with microphone), played by Spc. Maniececia Peterson, 256th Signal Company, 17th Fires Brigade, a Memphis, Tenn. native, sings at the center of a musical and dance interlude during the play, "Fannie Mae's Café," performed by the Basra Gospel Choir at the Contingency Operating Base Basra Town Hall, March 19, 2010. The play was written and directed by Sgt. Mario Ward, 546th Maintenance Co.

    Gospel Choir keeps the audience, messages rolling

    Fannie Mae (with microphone), played by Spc. Maniececia Peterson, 256th Signal Company, 17th Fires Brigade, a Memphis, Tenn. native, sings at the center of a musical and dance interlude during the play, "Fannie Mae's Café," performed by the Basra...

They may not be ready for Broadway just yet, but the Basra Gospel Choir put on a show for an appreciative crowd that any amateur troop would envy, at the Contingency Operating Base Basra Town Hall, March 19, 2010.

Rehearsing in their limited free time during the past two months, the group came together for a performance that not only drew a standing-room-only crowd, but brought those seated to their feet, applauding, at the end of the show.

Spc. Corporan Angel, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 130th Aviation Regiment, based in Morrisville N.C., said he came out to support his unit members, and was pleasantly surprised.

"I thought it was great; I think it couldn't have been better," said the Raleigh N.C. native. "It was really funny, I think there were some key points in there, and it was a lot better than what I expected."

Written by Sgt. Mario Ward, shop office noncommissioned officer in charge, 546th Maintenance Company, the play, "Fannie Mae's CafAfA," hit a chord with both its humor and its sober, but hopeful, message.

"The theme basically was, your family might not be the only ones you can lean on, and you might not be able to lean on them too often," said Spc. Andrez Powell, 1st ARB, 130th Aviation Regt., who played Mr. Raphaellosso, a humorous and entertaining - yet clearly self-serving - character who is attempting to swindle Samantha, the daughter of cafAfA owner Fannie Mae.

Samantha, blinded to his intentions by her own greed, falls happily for his machinations.

"Even family members do scandalous things," said Powell, a Raleigh N.C. native.

Yet, the play also portrayed the importance of judging people by their character rather than their past, as personified in Roderick, played by Staff Sgt. Jose Rios, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, a Philadelphia native.

"You've got personnel who do things in life that may have ruined either their career or gave them a set-back," Rios said after the performance. "You can always still move forward, even though you're perceived a certain way or you've been through a lot of stuff in life, you can still move forward and be successful."

Still, the support the play most often evoked was that which comes from faith, as Spc. Maniececia Peterson, 256th Signal Company, 17th Fires Brigade, a Memphis, Tenn. native, who played Fannie Mae, pointed out.

"Sometimes it's family, the ones that are closest to you, that actually turn around and do you the worst," she said after the performance. "So, even when those people close to you do you like that, sometimes you can't turn to nobody but God, and allow Him to fight your battle, and then bring you back up."

The message was key for Ward, an Aberdeen, Miss. native, but not the only element.
"We wanted to let them know there's a message here, but we wanted them to laugh as well," he said.

And laugh they did, with even some of the cast members later recalling moments they had to struggle not to laugh and break character in response to the antics of the other performers.

"My personality is to make people laugh, and if I didn't make people laugh, it wouldn't be me," said Ward.

Laughter is therapeutic in and of itself, Ward said, and music is another big part of his life, and so was also a big part of the play.

"I'm just a song writer, really," he said. "I just like to paint a picture."

The author of several short stories and novellas, Ward is on his fourth play to be written for and performed by Soldiers, and works with his church back home to put on similar motivational productions.

What keeps him interested and working though, whether he is writing, producing or simply helping someone out, is the opportunity to share with others.

"A lot of people who were in the play never did a play before; I never did a play before - until I did a play before," he said. "So, I'm just here to show people that you can do whatever you put your mind to."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16