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The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial: Incredibly Guilty

I really haven't much to say about the Broadway revival of Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. Judging from his rather perfunctory production, I'm not certain director Jerry Zaks has much to say about it either. With the spectacular exception of Zeljko Ivanek's supporting performance, this tensionless mounting, which will have seen its final curtain by the time you're reading this, displays all the depth and character work of a first rehearsal read-through.

 

 

Wouk adapted his best-selling, Pulitzer-winning 1951 novel, inspired by his experiences serving on a Navy destroyer minesweeper during World War II, for this 1954 Broadway hit. The mutiny in question refers to the shipboard actions of Lt. Stephen Maryk (Joe Sikora), who relieved Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg (Ivanek) of command of the U.S.S. Caine during a typhoon, believing his incompetent leadership was about to doom all aboard. With nearly the entire play taking place during Maryk's trial, the audience is faced with characters who are all playing a part, so to speak, as they conceal emotions and put their calmest, most credible faces forward.

 

 

But the author provides hints of sizzle underneath the cut and dry courtroom proceedings. Prosecuting attorney Lieutenant Commander John Challee (Tim Daly) is actually a friend of defense attorney Lieutenant Barney Greenwald (David Schwimmer), whom he requested to be assigned to the case. Greenwald openly states he'd rather be prosecuting Maryk than defending him. Juicy stuff. But unfortunately, Schwimmer's flat and surface performance doesn't begin to suggest any internal conflict. Likewise, Daly seems incapable of delivering a line without communicating the subtext, "I am a handsome man."

The ensemble of actors playing witnesses and members of the court do fine, if not especially inspired, work. John Lee Beatty's set seems designed to be easily and cheaply transported on tour, but the actors look good in William Ivy Long's crisp costumes under Paul Gallo's imposing lights.

 

 

As Lt. Com. Queeg, Zeljko Ivanek makes one completely absorbing and captivating appearance in each act. Appearing first as a witness for the prosecution, he is the spit-shine model of selfless military pride. Relaxed and humorously cocky while responding to the sympathetic prosecuting attorney, you can sense the man's awareness that he's playing the room and delivering the image the Navy desires. In Act II the man slowly crumbles under the prosecution's questioning. (An even more impressive feat when you consider how little he gets to play off from Schwimmer.) At first it's a slight lack of timing in explaining a past discrepancy. Before you can even figure out when it started, his hand starts trembling as he seems to be physically reaching for answers under the pitiful looks of those in court.

 

 

Ivenek's attention to detail, moments of subtlety that creep up on you by surprise, and heroic portrayal of a flawed, but honorable leader is so far above anything else in this short-lived production that the real tragedy of the piece is that so few people will have seen it.

 

Photos by Scott Landis: Top: Tim Daly and Zeljko Ivanek

Bottom: David Schwimmer

 


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