Drayton Entertainment’s St. Jacob’s Country Playhouse has kicked off their 2020 season with a memorable production of Aaron Sorkin‘s A FEW GOOD MEN. Despite its critical acclaim, this play is likely less familiar to most theatregoers than the classic movie it inspired. This provides an extra challenge to the company to inhabit roles made famous by the likes of Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore and to make the characters their own. It takes no time at all to be fully confident that director Marti Maraden has assembled a company that has done just that.
Set in 1986 in Washington D.C. and at a US Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, A FEW GOOD MEN introduces us to Lt. Daniel Kaffee (played by an excellent Tyrone Savage), a seemingly carefree junior lawyer in the marines who is living in the shadow of his deceased father. Kaffee, known for avoiding the courtroom by arranging plea bargains is assigned a high profile murder case after 2 marines (Nathanael Judah and Thomas Duplessie) confess to killing a struggling marine, Private William Santiago (Oscar Moreno). As Kaffee and his co-counsel delve deeper into the details of the case, it becomes clear to Kaffee that he was assigned this case with the hopes of a cover-up remaining…well, covered up. With the moral issues of the situation constantly scrutinized by co-counsel Sam Weinberg (Daniel Greenberg), and Kaffee’s willingness to push for truth and justice being spurred on by co-counsel Lt. Commander Joanne Galloway (Shannon Currie), the play effectively builds towards the moment and the quote most audience members know is coming from the moment they take their seats. This is of course, the scene in which Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep, played by the great Benedict Campbell informs Kaffee that perhaps he cannot cope with a non-lie….Or something like that. Despite the fact that there were a few chuckles in the audience at the utterance of this classic line of dialogue, by the time the play reaches this fateful climax, the audience has fully adopted Savage as their Kaffee and Campbell as their Jessep. This is a feat in itself and it speaks to the performances of these actors.
Savage’s Kaffee transitions from someone who seemingly doesn’t sweat, has not a strand of hair out of place, and holds no real stakes in anything, to an increasingly frazzled yet determined man who is determined to seek out the truth. Campbell’s Jessep is downright scary, but with a clear fatal flaw that Kaffee points out near the end of the trial-He believes he’s right. Between this performance and his performance last year in Drayton Entertainment’s TWELVE ANGRY MEN (Also directed by Maraden), Mr. Campbell has probably stirred up more conflict, anger and frustration in the hearts and minds of local audiences than anyone else in theatre in the last 12 months. This is absolutely meant as a compliment to Mr. Campbell.
The lone female character in this play is Lt. Commander Joanne Galloway portrayed by Shannon Currie. The sexist way the character is treated by most of the male characters (ranging from not being taken seriously to full on misogyny) is upsetting but important to the identity of this character. It is evident that Galloway’s entire career has been spent ignoring her male counterparts’ expectations of how things are supposed to work, whilst simultaneously always being forced to be painfully aware of those expectations at the same time. It is this insight that makes her the perfect person to notice that something fishy is going on and to stop at nothing to get to the truth of the matter and defend the accused marines. Her steadfast resolve is portrayed skillfully by Currie, as is her vulnerability when she continuously gets knocked down. When Kaffee makes mistakes, he and those around him brush them off quickly and move on. Currie’s mistakes are dwelled on for longer, and not forgotten until the men decide to move on. This is never fully rectified, as even Kaffee’s eventual apology to her is not really an apology. It is unclear if this something problematic in Mr. Sorkin’s writing (he has been criticized in the past for how he has written female characters) or if it is a clear choice to show how embedded sexism is in major institutions. Regardless of Mr. Sorkin’s intentions, Ms. Maraden and Ms. Currie use their skill to highlight this double standard and add fascinating dimensions to the play.
This production features an ensemble character that uses a wheelchair-played by George Alevizos, who is also a wheelchair user. This reviewer initially debated highlighting this in my review because, in an ideal world, this type of representation should occur frequently enough in theatrical productions that there would be no reason to highlight it and single out a performer for any reason other than their performance. We do no not live in an ideal world however, and representation of disability in a play that is not specifically about disability is in fact very rare, and therefore very important. It is important because it means theatre is representing the world we live in. It is also important because it sends the message that the backstage of a major theatre company can indeed be made to be physically accessible for members of the company and crew with disabilities. One can only hope that this is something that will begin to occur frequently enough that this reviewer will one day not feel the need to even comment on it. For now though, this is a promising start.
In part to make it physically accessible, the set design (by Sean Mulcahy) for this play is quite interesting. There are no steps on the main set, and instead a tilted ramp-like platform on stage acting as the floor to the courtroom, offices, etc. For much of the play, justice appears to be tilted and unbalanced and so this works well as a visual metaphor for the world these characters are operating within.
The superb design, direction, and performances in this production should make it as difficult for audiences to miss as it was difficult for this reviewer to avoid a pun involving the words “you can’t handle the truth” in this review. In other words, this one is hard to pass up. Go see it.
A FEW GOOD MEN plays at the St. Jacob’s Country Playhouse until March 22nd. For more information on this season at Drayton Entertainment, check out their website at: www.draytonentertainment.com
Photo Credit: Drayton Entertainment