The year is 1989, broadway witnessed for the first time, Aaron Sorkin’s play ‘A Few Good Men’. In the 90s, cinema-goers saw a film of the same name directed by Rob Reiner with an impressive all-star cast of Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson. Sorkin’s play about authority, institutionalisation and the moral conflict of serving in the military in and out of war times triumphed even after the format change. That might have something to do with the fact that Sorkin is the same talented playwright who penned ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Newsroom’ for broadway. After the film’s success, the theatre productions gained even more impetus till it came closer to home, for the Indians, most recently with Aadyam’s production directed by Nadir Khan. We get it, why is a play from 89 being revived now? Theatre junkies will find the answer in a theatre filled with fans of the most popular stages in town and of course, the hit 90s film.
A Few Good Men is inspired by true events and follows a courtroom drama of the trial of two US Navy mariners (Harold Dawson and Louden Downey) accused of murdering one of their own, a Private William T Santiago. The story highlights the inherent flaw of a system that rewards following orders blindly, and the potential culpability of those executing the orders. Kaffee, a junior lawyer is assigned the case in spite of Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway expressing her keen interest in the case and an unexpected turn of events has them working together to defend the accused marines. That story is getting the Nadir Khan directorial a fifth season where its finding new relevance. If you are already a fan of the film, forget the bright softball pitch where Kaffee and Galloway had their initial trysts or the layout of Guantanomo bay, you’re about the enter the theatre realm of Mumbai’s NCPA.
‘A Few Good Men’ casts Neil Bhoopalam as Kaffee, Ira Dubey as JoAnne Galloway, Rajit Kapoor as Jessup amongst other talented actors. The play opens with a three-part setting sectioned off for the action of the play. Right off the bat, the use of lighting in a play like this one and in the Aadyam production has to be clever and impeccably well-timed at that. The action of the play takes place between a courtroom, a jail cell, Navy barracks with some scenes taking place in the Navy higher-ups cabin. The lights were focused on areas as per the sequence of the scene and it absolutely mesmerising to watch sections with the spotlight on literally shedding light on the happenings on the play. A seasoned theatre-viewer will notice the play of shadows employed as well, especially in the prison setting where Louden and Downey stand awaiting trial as their shadows bear patterns of the jail cell bars. Imprisonment finds the aptest representation in the oldest textbook theatre techniques.
From act one, you will begin to notice the parallels with the movie (if the film was your initiation into the plot) and the callbacks are necessary. With the layered inter-textuality of the play, you will find yourself familiar with some dialogues. I for one ended up mouthing a few or hearing them in Tom Cruise’s voice. This surprisingly does nothing to take away from the uniqueness of the play. And that has a lot to do with the cast of A Few Good Men. Neil Bhoopalam is a total delight and you won’t for a second try to draw comparisons. His performance as Kaffee is endearing and convincing. Most of the praise belongs to his comic timing and his easy-going stage presence. When he delivered Kaffee’s lines it was bound to make viewers laugh. Ira Dubey makes a great case for Galloway, stepping into her shoes wholly with all the expertise drawn from her impressive history in cinema and theatre.
The trysts between Neil and Ira added a lot to the humour of the play. A major chunk of the performances’ appreciation belongs to Rajit Kapoor’s Jessup. We get it, nobody parallel’s Jack Nicholson if you’ve seen him as a reference but believe us when we tell you, you’re in for a total treat. He was just as intense as Jessup the character demands and he pulled off the role rather flawlessly. Meet him in the courtroom and wait for Neil’s Kaffee to accuse him of murdering Santiago and you’ll know what we’re getting at.
The narrative of the play is so well-paced, won’t find yourself looking for action to occupy the stage. Apart from a few glitches in introducing chronology of the events and goof ups in scene switches (sorry, production guy!), you won’t have any complaints with the way it pans out. The play manages to keep you hooked till its interval and just when you think it will be slow on the draw, it serves you a second helping of the engaging drama. As the play progresses, you will find yourself leaning in to keep up with the tension that rises as the climax approaches.
Now, comedy, dramatic dialogue deliveries and set-up populating the stage aren’t the only highlights of Aadyam’s ‘A Few Good Men’. A good part of the play’s brilliance comes from suspense. Suspense in the theatre finds several mediums, this one employs light and darkness as much as the lights. In a particularly stunning scene, a marine squadron is lined up with a wired fence in the backdrop upon which stands a commander employing tasks to his men. Each character takes turns facing the silhouette and voice giving out orders with shadows skewering their intents and reactions further. There’s a death scene too that we won’t spoil here. Suspense prevails between these scenes and gives the much-required boost to a story that’s essentially a brewing conspiracy among the military ranks.
The underlying message of A Few Goodman is written in the way the culmination of the acts, the lighting shifts and the intense dialogue exchanges arrives. It comments on the nature of men in authority, of men who try their best to follow a righteous path and of men (and women) who must put on their uniform patches and march on even though their line of firing is off the battle field. The lawyers have as much of responsibility of carrying the burden that comes with “the business of saving lives” in Jessup’s words.
By the time Aaron Sorkin’s play would find its way to India, the words “You can’t handle the truth” would be mouthed by Rajit Kapoor in an Aadyam production at the NCPA, Mumbai and it would provide fresh evidence of the script’s timelessness.