BWW Reviews: A FEW GOOD MEN Brings Two Great Hours at York Little Theatre
In 1989, Aaron Sorkin's A FEW GOOD MEN opened on Broadway at the Music Box theatre, where it ran for 497 performances - a not at all shabby number. But David Brown's stage production was eclipsed in 1992 by the movie version, produced by Brown and directed by Rob Reiner, back in the days when "Guantanamo" was not a bad word to many Americans. It's on stage now at York Little Theatre, directed by novice director (but veteran stage technician) Stephen R. Hoke, who clearly has a feel for his material, as well as having worked with the show before. Allegedly based on an actual incident at Guantanamo, in which, unlike the play, no one died, the show is one in which the military and its procedure are as much characters as the individuals who make up the details of events.
The production on stage is Sorkin's 2012 rewrite of the play; he previously rewrote it in 2005 for the revival, incorporating material that had first appeared in the movie. It's an improvement over the 1989 version, clearer in plot details and in character development, and Hoke handles it with the sureness that comes with familiarity. The staging works well, and the pacing is, for the most part, satisfactorily tight - this is a fast-paced piece of work, and set changes between scenes require speed. In that, it's unlike real military daily life, as those who have lived and worked in the military can attest. But then, it's Sorkin, and rapid-fire cuts between scenes are one of his trademarks.
For the most part, the cast is as satisfactory as the direction. Particularly notable are Nathan Schaffner as Jt. JG Daniel Kaffee, the primary JAG officer assigned to the case, and Wayne Mundis as Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep, the "villain" of the piece. Kaffee brings a certain charm to Kaffee's greenhorn attorney, and is certainly able to depict his growth as an advocate throughout the course of the evening. His beginnings, in which he clearly doesn't care about the resulting effect on anyone's life as long as the case is handled easily becomes a visible change to moral outrage at military duplicity in Schaffner's hands. Mundis' Jessep is everything you want in an overbearing military leader - he's red-faced, blustering, certain of his own rightness of mind and spirit, even in the face of his own wrongheadedness. Their infamous confrontation on the witness stand during the courtroom scene in the second half is handled finely, with the infamous "you can't handle the truth!" out in the air like the tip of a bullwhip between them.
Also notable are Charlie Heller as Lance Corporal Harold Dawson, the man who did what he was told to do, to the point of taking a fall for following orders, and the victim, PFC William Santiago, played by Bradlee Alan Gorrera. Meg Schabdach as Commander Joanne Galloway, Internal Affairs lawyer turned counsel for Dawson's co-defendant, carries out her role gamely, though she feels just slightly stiff in the first half of the production, her emotions finally coming through in the second half. Sam Weinberg, Kaffee's JAG co-counsel, is Christopher Quigley, last seen at YLT as Sidney Bruhl in DEATHTRAP. Quigley is a fine actor, and it shows, though his performance feels as if he is in too small a role. Joe Reed, playing Lt. Jonathon Kendrick, one of Jessep's Guantanamo henchmen, is particularly fine in his pivotal scene in the platoon meeting, and he and Greg Koslosky as Captain Matthew Markinson, Jessep's other minion of evil, are an outstanding team on stage.
YLT has pulled out the stops for this production, including ushers in military uniform. The costuming throughout is a nice piece of work, although if you're a stickler for exact detail on your military uniforms and you are sitting in the first few rows, you'll be able to nitpick slightly. Costume designer Samantha Hyson has done a fine piece of work generally with the show.
YLT's new executive director, Lyn Bergdoll, and director of artistic services, Rene Staub, have elsewhere indicated a commitment to quality productions from York Little Theatre. This show, immediately after YLT's spectacular CABARET, is reassuring. One may hope that the theatre's shows continue in this fine vein; this reviewer looks forward to the thought. Director Hoke indicates an interest in directing future productions, and it is also to be hoped that he carries through on that interest. His background in show lighting gives him an understanding of the setting of atmosphere that some local directors lack, and his knowledge of it was indeed evident in this production.