BWW Reviews: The Alley's Taut and Suspenseful A FEW GOOD MEN Perfectly Handles the Truth

BWW Reviews: The Alley's Taut and Suspenseful A FEW GOOD MEN Perfectly Handles the TruthAny mention of Aaron Sorkin's A FEW GOOD MEN makes people instantly think of Jack Nicholson yelling, "You can't handle the truth!" Currently, the Alley Theatre is offering a production of Aaron Sorkin's play that easily surpasses the 1992 film adaptation in quality. The Alley Theatre's powerful production of A FEW GOOD MEN is a tense, taut court room drama thrill-ride that will leave audiences breathless and speechless.

Aaron Sorkin is the acclaimed writer of THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION (which played at the Alley in 2009), The Social Network, Moneyball, Charlie Wilson's War, and the HBO series The Newsroom among many others. His name is synonymous with snappy, clever dialogue that hooks the audience and writing that develops comprehensively multilayered and altogether realistic characters. His writing for A FEW GOOD MEN is no exception to his reputation. Inspired by true events, A FEW GOOD MEN's fast pulse continually quickens and keeps the audience enthralled and enraptured in the twisting, turning plot.

The direction by Gregory Boyd is just as quick and sharp as Aaron Sorkin's writing. He expertly builds a palpable ambience of dramatic suspense, never allowing the urgent immediacy of the show to slip. Ingeniously, his production rarely has a total blackout. Most scenes seamlessly transition into each other. Furthermore, when a set change is needed, the cast and crew are in costume and character to perform the set change. They move with the precision, pace, and proficiency of the U.S. Marines, putting chairs, tables, and more in their proper places quickly and efficiently. These choices make the almost three hour long production fly by, keeping the audience amazingly ensnarled in the fascinating action.

Making his Alley Theatre debut, Jeremy Webb gloriously leads the show as Lt. j.g. Daniel A. Kaffee. He consummately portrays the Ivy-League egotistical, cocky swagger that imbues the role. Yet, where character traits like this should be off-putting, Jeremy Webb ensures that the audience relates to his character by showcasing the gradual development of his profound and touching empathy for his clients, Lance Cpl. Harold W, Dawson and Pfc. Louden Downey. Jeremy Webb also infuses his portrayal of Kaffee with an infectious charismatic charm that easily earns laughs from the audience at all the right moments.

Lee Sellars is also making his Alley Theatre debut as the gruff and contemptible Lt. Col Nathan Jessep. His Jessep is rough around the edges, extremely tough, and one hell of an intimidating hard ass. He is explosive at all the right times and revs up quicker in the courtroom than Jack Nicholson did in the film. This choice perfectly allows Jessep's ego to fill the entire 824 seat auditorium. With his immaculate performance, Lee Sellars guarantees that the audience wants to castigate him as ruthless, but that they also feel the sincerity of his words when he states, "You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall; you need me on that wall." Lee Sellars does an astounding job creating a human being that is utterly reprehensible but honestly feels he is doing the best job that he can, considering his assignment. It is easy to see his faults while finding the wisdom in his vile words.

For those familiar with the film, the most startling difference may come from Emily Neves Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway. Demi Moore's character is stoic and tough as nails. Early in Act I, Emily Neves' Galloway is told, "You could have a career as a cartoon squirrel," and she plays the role as such. Emily Neves' Galloway is spirited and even a touch bubbly; however, she is surprisingly strong. She stands up for her herself, her convictions, and her beliefs, refusing to be bullied or made to appear unimportant.

Lt. j.g. Sam Weinberg is expertly played by BroadwayWorld's Broadway Boo's host Jared Zirilli, who is making his Alley Theatre debut. Despite spending a great deal of time in The Shadows of Jeremy Webb's Kaffee and Emily Neves' Galloway, Jared Zirilli brings striking emotional depth and compassion to stage with his portrayal of Weinberg. His Weinberg is morally opposed to the actions that led to Pfc. William T. Santiago's death, forcing Kaffee and Galloway to stay grounded in logic and rationality as they prepare their case and fight for Dawson and Downey's lives in the court of law.

As Pfc. William T. Santiago, Ross Bautsch, making his Alley Theatre debut, probably has the least amount of time on stage in A FEW GOOD MEN, but he is undoubtedly the most important character. If the audience does not understand his situation, have empathy for him, and sympathize with his struggle, then the whole show is undermined. In his brief moments on stage, Ross Bautsch creates a character that the audience can respect for being the best Marine that his physical condition can allow, being smart and rational enough to realize that he is in need of reassignment, being respectable, and earning our sympathy and empathy. As we get glimpses into his last few hours of life, he skillfully breaks our hearts and makes sure we want to see Kaffee, Galloway, and Weinberg succeed in bringing justice to those who wronged him.

As Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson, David Pegram delivers a magnificent performance that is imbued with his character's sense of honor. David Pegram's Dawson takes pride in his honor to his unit, the Corp, God, and country, and he is completely unwilling to betray his sense of honor. All of this combines to make the salute he offers at the end of the play the most affecting moment in the entire drama, bringing tears to the eyes of every member of the audience while we choked on our breath and stifled the desire to sob.

Robert Eli's Lt. Jack Ross adeptly bullies Kaffee. Robert Eli masterfully crafts a character that plays off of Kaffee's own insecurities, which convinces him that accepting a plea bargain may be a worthwhile venture. Robert Eli is also adroitly stoic and rigid, which makes the character much more interesting and believable than Kevin Bacon did in the film.

Also making his Alley Theatre debut, Michael Schantz brings chilling life to the horrific Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick. Michael Scahntz elicits utter disgust and cold chills from the audience as he stands firm that Santiago died because Santiago "had no code," "had no honor, and God was watching."

Max Carpenter shines in his Alley Theatre debut as Pfc. Louden Downey. Utilizing a backwoods accent, Max Carpenter keenly plays the bumbling and affable young man. His inability to follow and comprehend the situation he is in is both endearing and humorous to the audience.

Being used to see Jeffrey Bean chew the scenery, it was refreshing to see him on stage as Dr. Stone. Jeffrey Bean's characterization showcases the pitfalls of Good Ol' Boy systems, illustrating the dangers of how the I'll-Scratch-Your-Back-If-You-Scratch-Mine system can distort and convolute the truth in dangerous ways.

James Black's Capt. Matthew A. Markinson brings a sobering sense of duty to the production. Breaking the Marine's code of honor, he stands up for Santiago and gives Kaffee, Galloway, and Weinberg some critical key information that can help them win their case; however, his tragic final moments on stage pristinely robs the audience of their breath.

As Judge Randolph, David Rainey skillfully holds the reins and controls his courtroom with dexterity. Without a doubt, David Rainey's Judge Randolph is deserving of the respect he commands.

Rounding out the cast, Jay Sullivan's Cpl. Howard, Todd Waite's Capt. Isaac Whitaker, Daniel Bevan, Andrew Garrett, Dain Geist, Mark Jackson, Justin O'Brien, Darnea S. Olson, Benjamin Reed and Tristien Marcellous Winfree deliver admirable performances. They each bring realistic life to their assigned roles, ensuring that the audience sees one cohesive and complete picture.

Takeshi Kata's Scenic Design is sparse and drab, featuring a lot of empty and unadorned space in the design. The set's greatest character is the hardwood floor and the movable piece of scaffolding, which allows for interesting blocking and smooth transitions to new locales. Ultimately, the dingy, dirty from use appearance, dreary, and austere set creates a backdrop that is easy to ignore as the cast captivates the audience with their stunning performances.

Costume Design by Alejo Vietti vividly captures what audiences expect from a military courtroom drama. We see various classes of uniforms perfectly tailored to the actors that wear them, making it appear that the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps has outfitted the cast themselves.

David Lander's Lighting Design is just as stark as the set, keeping a minimalistic approach and aesthetic. Textured gobos are used sparingly, which makes them all the more effective when used.

Sound Design by Jill BC DuBoff is astounding. The pulsating underscore is perfectly in synch with the performance and heightens the audience's emotional response to the material. Sound effects are employed with perfect timing as well. The only place that the Sound Design seemed off to me was the choice to begin the intermission music with Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff."

The Alley Theatre's A FEW GOOD MEN is a meticulously paced and played production. The audience is treated to a cerebral chess game where every move is important and every misstep has dire consequences. The cast and crew make certain that the audience tangibly feels how high the stakes are and goes for broke as they present Aaron Sorkin's masterful game of wit and logic versus loyalty and brawn.

A FEW GOOD MEN runs on the Alley Theatre's Hubbard Stage through March 24, 2013. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.alleytheatre.org/alley/default.asp or call (713) 220 - 5700.

All photos by Jann Whaley. Courtesy of the Alley Theatre.

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BWW Reviews: The Alley's Taut and Suspenseful A FEW GOOD MEN Perfectly Handles the Truth
(Left to Right) David Pegram as Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson, Jeremy Webb as Lt. j.g. Daniel A. Kaffee, Max Carpenter as Pfc. Louden Downey and Tristien Marcellous Winfree as Military Police.

BWW Reviews: The Alley's Taut and Suspenseful A FEW GOOD MEN Perfectly Handles the Truth
Jeremy Webb as Lt. j.g. Daniel A. Kaffee and Lee Sellars as Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep.

BWW Reviews: The Alley's Taut and Suspenseful A FEW GOOD MEN Perfectly Handles the Truth
Emily Neves as Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway.

BWW Reviews: The Alley's Taut and Suspenseful A FEW GOOD MEN Perfectly Handles the Truth
Left to Right) Max Carpenter as Pfc. Louden Downey, Jeremy Webb as Lt. j.g. Daniel A. Kaffee and David Pegram as Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson.

BWW Reviews: The Alley's Taut and Suspenseful A FEW GOOD MEN Perfectly Handles the Truth
(Left to Right) Jeremy Webb as Lt. j.g. Daniel A. Kaffee and Jared Zirilli as Lt. j.g. Sam Weinberg.

BWW Reviews: The Alley's Taut and Suspenseful A FEW GOOD MEN Perfectly Handles the Truth
(Left to Right) David Pegram as Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson and Jeremy Webb as Lt. j.g. Daniel A. Kaffee.

BWW Reviews: The Alley's Taut and Suspenseful A FEW GOOD MEN Perfectly Handles the Truth
(Left to Right) Jeremy Webb as Lt. j.g. Daniel A. Kaffee, Jay Sullivan as Cpl. Howard and David Rainey as Judge Julius Alexander Randolph.

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