BWW Reviews: Georgetown Palace's Production of A FEW GOOD MEN is a Tight, Thoughtful Drama
Think of A Few Good Men, and you're bound to think of Jack Nicholson screaming the iconic line "You can't handle the truth!" in the celebrated 1992 film. However, if you're lucky enough to catch Georgetown Palace's current production of the 1989 play which inspired the film, you're bound to think of a remarkably effective and thought provoking evening of theatre.
The play, one of the earliest works of Aaron Sorkin, is a riveting courtroom/military drama. Private William Santiago, a disappointing weak link of his platoon, dies after being hazed by Private Downey and Lance Corporal Dawson. Downey and Dawson are arrested for murder, and the stage is set for one of the best courtroom dramas of all time.
The script by Sorkin, best known for his work on the films The Social Network, The American President, Charlie Wilson's War and the hit TV show The West Wing, is a fast-moving, gritty, and intense look at the inner workings of the military. There's plenty of Sorkin's trademark rapid fire dialogue and many humorous one liners that keep the piece from becoming overly dark and heavy-handed. Though Sorkin's distinct language is always a challenge, the biggest roadblock for any production of A Few Good Men is the play's structure. Rather than telling the story through several long scenes, typical of American drama, Sorkin tells his story through a series of short and occasionally abrupt vignettes and flashbacks. There are more scenes than you can count which makes A Few Good Men insanely difficult to stage.
Thankfully director Ron Watson is more than capable of handling the play's structural issues. The pacing is quick, and the evening slowly builds to an explosive climax without ever losing the interest and attention of the audience. Watson's decision to incorporate military drills, cadences and chants into the scene changes brilliantly fills the gaps between scenes without letting the show lose momentum. The set, also by Watson, uses barbed wire fences and a tall look-out tower to create an imposing and somewhat disturbing feeling which greatly enhances the play. The rest of Watson's design team also produces incredible work. The military uniforms by costume designer Mary Ellen Butler are meticulously detailed, and the lighting by Dylan Rocamora is effective and varied. Flashbacks and scene changes are lit in dim, moody reds, blues, and greens while the present day scenes are lit naturalistically.
Watson's entire cast is outstanding. Though Sorkin's text places most in smaller cameo roles which don't give many of the actors the opportunity to truly stand in the spotlight, every member of the cast is devoted and committed to their character. Despite the size of the cast, the play turns on the performances of a few key actors, all of which are remarkably strong. As the accused, Will Swift and Ethen Heeter are memorable despite a relatively small amount of stage time. Heeter plays Dawson as more collected while Swift plays Downey as more agitated and fearful. Rick Smith and Dana Barnes are equally as fantastic as the play's dual antagonists. In the Jack Nicholson role of Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep, Smith is wonderfully scary and unpredictable. You know he's bound to blow up, but you're never sure exactly when that inevitable eruption will come. As Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick, Barnes is just as intimidating and frightening. Both men make the brilliant choice that while their characters are tough, angry, and have a penchant for shouting at lower-ranking men, they're not truly villainous. They do what they think is right for their men and their country, misguided though they are, and that distinction makes them far more interesting antagonists.
The outstanding performances continue with the trio of defense lawyers at the center of the drama. While he's often seen in supporting roles at the Georgetown Palace, Ismael Soto III proves that he's more than able to take on leading roles. Soto plays Lieutenant Daniel A. Kaffee as an arrogant, wisecracking lawyer who would rather push his clients to take plea deals than step foot in the courtroom. But despite the few likeable qualities of the character, Soto's take on him is incredibly charismatic. Kaffee may be an arrogant narcissist who shirks responsibility, but for some reason you're constantly on the side of this flawed antihero. As Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway, Kristin Harper gives a tremendous performance. She's stern, serious, passionate, and more than able to go toe to toe with the men around her. Rounding out the defense team is the easy-going Lieutenant Sam Weinberg, played to perfection by Matt Gauck.