Playwright Aaron Sorkin’s writing, Theatre Raleigh guest director Michael Berry’s direction, and the talent and effort of the cast, designers, and crew of A Few Good Men make this 1989 Broadway courtroom drama an incredible evening of live theater.
What is a “Code Red”? Who should be held accountable when the best intentions of “a few good men” result in an accidental death?
The play’s name conjures up the once-ubiquitous recruiting phase: “The Marines are looking for a few good men.” It firmly sets the play in the world of the U.S. Marine Corps.
In the world of the play, however, the phrase can be applied to different sets of people — if we, the audience, are looking for a few good [people], who are they? Dawson & Downey (the accused)? Kaffee, Galloway, and Weinberg (the defense team)? Or any of a number of other characters involved in the dense web of the plot?
Fans of the hit TV show “The West Wing” already have an appreciation for Sorkin’s writing, and the characters and the dialogue in A Few Good Men are no disappointment!
Lance Corporal Harold Dawson and PFC Lowden Downey stand accused of the murder of Pvt. William Santiago at the American Marine base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (a.k.a. “Gitmo”). Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway, in her thoroughness, suspects that the case has been rushed to completion and gets it reopened, bringing the trial to a stateside naval base.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Daniel Kaffee is assigned the case, with Sam Weinberg as second chair. Unimpressed with Kaffee’s cavalier attitude, Galloway pulls every available string to insert herself into the defense team.
Galloway is the true hero of the piece. Her efforts, in addition to getting the case reopened, spur Kaffee and Weinberg to put forth their best efforts.
Will Dawson and Downey spend the rest of their lives in prison? Will they be acquitted? Who is ultimately responsible for Santiago’s death? Has there been a cover up?
The play’s setting bounces back and forth between the stateside naval base and Gitmo, between the linear time of the play’s “present” and events of its “immediate past” — the scene of the trial and the scene of the crime. We watch the unfolding of an intense game of chess (or is it poker?) with the fates of Dawson and Downey as the stakes.
Set designer Chris Bernier has given us a multileveled set with numerous acting areas. The set supplies central metaphor of the play: a tall fence, complete with razor-wire on top with one very small gateway. Director Michael Berry wisely chooses to set some scenes behind the fence and some in front (for a variety of reasons, we suspect!).
Set changes are “performed” by uniformed Marines — a stroke of genius! We hear their marching boots and their antiphonal cadences, and we witness the precision enabled by their military discipline — another important metaphor.
Thomas Mauney’s lighting design facilitates the precision with which scene changes are made. Especially impressive is the lightning-fast “tag team” sequence in which we are first introduced to Dawson and Downey and their situation.
In addition to the set-change cadences, well-chosen music and background sounds, such as jeeps, marching boots, and crowd noises (supplied by sound designer Eric Alexander Collins), reinforce our feeling of being “right there.”
Denise Schumaker’s costumes and props are authentic — right down to the multiple marine and naval uniforms worn by several actors.
All of the acting is superb! (Note: Although many actors play multiple roles, none of the principals appear as a different character.)
Charlie Brady as Daniel Kaffee shows us Kaffee’s initial brash attitude and his self-assured notion that the-first-solution-is-always-the-best — he is “little-work-lots-of-play.” We easily buy-in to his transformations as he “steps up to the plate” (this metaphor, you will, see is apt).
Laura Campbell as Joanne Galloway convinces us of her character’s passion for the law, for procedure, and for her clients. We also see her vulnerability. Watch for her “center-stage moments” — they are critical to understanding her character. Also: watch for a poignant Joanne-cadence moment.
Christopher Russo as Nathan Jessup is absolutely believable in his commitment to what he perceives to be his mission as a commanding officer in the USMC. Jessup quotes Melville and Shakespeare, he refers to lawyers as clowns, and there is never any question about his perception of his superiority in the dynamics of his relationships with other characters.
It is significant that we first encounter him alone, center-stage, in his own pool of light. Watch for the next time we see him in that same spot on stage.
John Allore as Matthew Markinson shows the appropriate ambivalence that a second-in-command would feel when torn between conflicting notions of loyalty and honor. His first and final appearances in the play are key to understanding this character. Pay attention to where (on stage) he appears when he is the central character in a scene. Pay attention, also to this character’s costume changes.
Ira David Wood IV as Jonathan Kendrick shows just how thoroughly (and possibly psychopathically) committed a Marine can be to the code to which Dawson and Downey introduce us: Unit, Corps, God, Country. Pay special attention to his interaction with the corporals during their meeting. (Note: Even though the other three have been promoted to “full” corporal, Dawson is still a Lance Corporal. How crucial is this? And why?)
Deon Releford-Lee and Ben Redding as Dawson and Downey, respectively, show us two young men in desperate straits. They never even consider “selling-out.” Pay attention to the bond between them.
Jade Arnold as Corporal Howard probably appears in several scenes as “one of the Marines.” However, he is most endearing in his role as “the young Marine, surrounded by officers, on the witness stand for the first time ever.” We easily understand Kaffee’s repeated attempts to make Howard feel less overwhelmed.
If you are looking for a few good shows this summer, make Theatre Raleigh’s A Few Good Men one of them!
SECOND OPINION: June 18th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article24904936.html; and June 17th Raleigh, NC WNCN interview with actor Christopher Russo, conducted by Alex Butler for “My Carolina Today”: http://wncn.com/2015/06/17/kennedy-theatre-performs-a-few-good-men/; and June 10th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/a-few-good-men/Event?oid=4440470
Theatre Raleigh presents A FEW GOOD MEN at 8 p.m. June 19, 2 and 8 p.m. June 20, 3 p.m. June 21, 8 p.m. June 24-26, 2 and 8 p.m. June 27, and 3 p.m. June 28 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $27 ($25 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except $22 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-832-9997, email@example.com, or https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/27655.
SHOW: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/2015-season/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/303712363172577/.
PRESENTER: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Theatre-Raleigh/349124511834045, and https://twitter.com/TheatreRaleigh.
A Few Good Men (1989 Broadway play): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2810/few-good-men-a (Samuel French), http://ibdb.com/show.php?id=1092 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Few_Good_Men_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.cltc.org/forms/StudyGuideAFEWGOODMEN2.pdf (City Lights Theater Company of San Jose, CA).
Aaron Sorkin (playwright and screenwriter): http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=3871 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0815070/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Sorkin (Wikipedia).
Michael Berry (New York City director): https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=779842927 (Facebook page).
EDITOR’S NOTE: Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.