The thing I love most about theatre is when I see a play that draws me into the story so much that I completely forget that I am in a theatre surrounded by dozens of people–but that doesn’t happen often. Yet “A Few Good Men,” Aaron Sorkin’s military drama, made me feel like I was part of the jury itself. The play ended with a standing ovation and a cheering crowd—completely earned. Good way to start the year, Citadel!
“A Few Good Men” was first presented in Broadway in 1989 and was then adapted to film in the 1992 movie of the same name. At first I was tempted to see the movie before the show so that I could compare the production to the film, but I am so very glad I didn’t—it kept the suspense going and allowed the turns and twists of the story to cause as much impact as possible.
Lt. J.G. Daniel A. Kaffee (Charlie Gallant) is a recently graduated lawyer that has never handled a murder case. Lt. Cmdr. JoAnne Galloway (Lora Brovold) is an overachieving worker of internal affairs that has a utopic idea of justice. Galloway develops a special interest in the case of two young soldiers (PFC. Louden Downey, played by Cole Humeny, and Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson played by Jeff Strome) accused of the death of a fellow soldier, PFC William T. Santiago, while stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
After Kaffee is assigned to represent the accused, what first seemed a very straight forward case begins to turn controversial as the investigation goes on. Kaffee, who has avoided confrontation and has a reputation of settling cases outside of the court, is forced to start a case that will challenge one of the most powerful men in the military.
Although this play is dramatic and has strong language, it is not all drama and intensity: actor Kevin Corey as Lt. J.G Sam Weinberg acted as great comic relief during intense moments, allowing the audience to have a good laugh here and there. Though he was not the only one making jokes during the performance, it seemed that this was one of Corey’s character’s most important purposes. The drama and the comedy are balanced well to make the play most enjoyable and interesting.
In terms of the production itself, the use of the stage was very interesting. There are two turning concentric circles in the middle of the stage that are used to transport the audience, within seconds, from one setting to another and back again, in order for the story to unfold in the same way as it is presented to the lawyers— you are discovering what they discover as the play goes on, and the audience is transported to a flash-back like moment in which the action is taking place.
The circles were also effectively used to give movement to the actors and keep the scenes from being too static. For example, in one of the very first scenes, Kaffee and Weinberg are walking around what seems like a military office while having a very tribal conversation. During this time, they are walking past soldiers or military men, sitting down in desks or standing having conversations. As the stage turns, the extra actors in the scene move and change positions to give the illusion of being a completely different set of people and of the main actors moving forward.
Because during the changes of setting most actors remain on stage but placed somewhere else in the circle, some of the scene changes are done with the aid of the lighting and onstage props. Dor example, to distinguish one setting from another, a big chain-like fence is placed in the middle circle as the other circle rotates to put one set of actors in front of the fence, and the other set behind it, separating the different settings.
I also found interesting that there was barely any music—there was singing, but this was done “a cappella.” Most of the singing was done by soldiers during changes of scenes or to add to the intensity during flashbacks—it was short and chorus like, adding a great impression of discipline and unity. In general the play settings were simplistic and straight forward, almost minimalistic, and I dare to say done on purpose to be consistent with the military leitmotif. In the words of Colonel Jessep, “[soldiers] follow orders, son. We follow orders or people die. It’s that simple.”
Now, if you haven’t seen the movie and you want to be fully surprised you can stop reading here and I hope you get a chance to enjoy this amazing production. If you have seen the movie, you can keep reading as I will now make a comparison between the two and talk about more specific aspects of the story. In other words, SPOILER ALERT!
The dialogue in the movie is basically the same as in the play, and it develops in a similar way—after all, playwright Aaron Sorkin was also the screenwriter. But in general the movie is much more dramatic and has fewer or less marked comic reliefs than the play, which makes the play more enjoyable in my opinion. I also have to say I prefer Charlie Gallant’s and Paul Essiembre’s performances—not that Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise did a bad job, but Gallant and Essiembre seemed to me more passionate about their characters and in general more convincing in the role of the care-free lawyer and the harsh Colonel.
Yet, of course, what everybody seemed to be waiting for was the famous confrontation between Kaffee and Colonel Jessep. As the moment approached (even I knew it was coming) I could feel the entire audience getting excited and tense at the same time—though again, I think the confrontation was much better in the play than in the movie. And I cannot say that was the best moment of the play.
There is one absolutely brilliant scene that needs mention: the scene in which Capitan Markinson commits suicide after sending a heartbreaking letter to the family of William Santiago. The scene was presented as happening while the lawyers continue with their trial preparations, as the stage turns so Markinson faces the audience, dressed in his best uniform, and begins reading the letter. Once he is finished, he salutes the audience and shoots himself—you hear the bang, but see nothing. At that exact moment the lights in the back of the stage, about 12 in rows of 4 or 5, emit a bright light that blinded the audience—once back to normal, the stage begins moving to allow Capitan Markinson to make an exit into back stage, which is radiating light, literally “going into the light.”
And other than a few changes in where or when certain conversations happen, the movie and the play are practically the same. But I can almost guarantee you will like the play better.
This Citadel production is dedicated to former premier Peter Lougheed.