BWW Reviews: A FEW GOOD MEN a Compelling Courtroom Drama
Can we handle the truth? The one offered by Aaron Sorkin's "A Few Good Men" - that civilization and the
comfort and freedom we enjoy are sustained by a measure of barbarity?
War is a necessary evil, Sorkin reminds us. But what happens when the warriors make the rules? When they run afoul of civilian law and common decency?
Those are the compelling questions prompted by Centre Stage's riveting production of "A Few Good Men" in Greenville.
Director Chip Egan's staging of Sorkin's 1989 Broadway play is taut, muscular and sharply acted by a cast of
Upstate South Carolina actors.
In this courtroom drama, two young Marines, Harold Dawson (Paul Pillsbury) and Louden Downey (Hunter Spangler), are charged with the murder of a fellow Marine, William Santiago (Brady Smith), who was perceived to be a slacker.
The case is handed to a Navy defense lawyer, Lt. Kaffee (David Bean), with a reputation for plea-bargaining.
But another lawyer, Lt. Comdr. Joanne Galloway (Debra Capps), is convinced Santiago was the victim of a "Code Red," a severe form of hazing ordered by Col. Jessep (Warren Mowry), commanding officer at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Kaffee and Galloway take considerable risks by accusing a decorated, high-ranking officer of wrongdoing.
Egan elicits vivid, finely calibrated performances from his 16-member cast.
Bean is terrific as Kaffee, growing markedly in depth and stature during the course of the play. Bean's Kaffee, at the outset, is a flippant wiseguy - a bit of a jerk - with a simpering smile. But he eventually comes to understand the honor and gravity of the uniform he wears and the justice system he represents.
Capps is excellent as the tough-as-nails Galloway, whose quiet strength is derived from moral fiber and calm self-possession.
Equally superb is Warren Mowry as the arrogant Jessep, who lives utterly by the code "unit, Corps, God, country" - never mind right and wrong. Mowry's Jessep is a blustering good ol' boy with an explosive personality and a very short fuse, a man who's not used to having his orders questioned.
The climatic courtroom scene between Kaffee and Jessep is some of the most spellbinding live theater you're likely to see this year in Greenville.
The acting in "A Few Good Men" is always natural, never forced. Under Egan's detailed direction, the cast nimbly negotiates the play's pattern of tension-and-release.
Dave LaPage and William Renken are marvelously understated as, respectively, the prosecutor Jack Ross and another defense attorney, Sam Weinberg.
Clark E. Nesbitt provides a pitch-perfect contribution as Judge Randolph, who presides over his court with tolerance but with no question as to who runs things.
Brady Smith is a sympathetic Santiago. Other powerful performances are offered by Paul Pillsbury, Hunter Spangler, Michael Hart, Thom Seymour and Simon Crowe.
David Hartmann's economical set allows the play's action to move smoothly between Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Washington, D.C.
Theater-goers should note: The play contains strong language and is intended for mature audiences only.
For tickets to this brawny, vigorous production of "A Few Good Men," call 864-233-6733.
Paul Hyde is the Arts Writer for The Greenville (S.C.) News and Southeast Editor of Classical Voice North America. Follow Paul on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.