Pollard Mounts Excellent Production of A FEW GOOD MEN

Pollard Mounts Excellent Production of A FEW GOOD MEN

Before writer/director Aaron Sorkin became best known for tv shows like The West Wing and Newsroom and movies such as The Social Network and Steve Jobs, he penned a stage play that may be more famous as a movie. Sorkin also worked on the movie version of his script for A Few Good Men, a play which has more than stood the test of time as a highly entertaining piece of theater that also raises important themes surrounding power, who wields it, and how they use it. It's also getting a first-rate production right now at the Pollard Theatre in Guthrie.

Sorkin's play is a military drama and a courtroom drama rolled into one riveting package, telling the story of two marines accused of murder. Lance Corporal Dawson and Private Downey have taken part in a "code red," a sort of hazing ritual forced upon soldiers who are dishonoring themselves and their unit. The Marine who was hazed, Private Santiago, is dead due to the incident which may or may not have been ordered by people above the pay grade of Dawson and Downey. Tasked with answering these questions of who ordered what and why is U.S. Navy lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, who is less than enthused by or interested in the case, but takes it anyway, figuring it will be a quick and easy task. He is joined by naval investigator JoAnne Galloway, who takes the case much more seriously and does not appreciate Kaffee's attitude or methods. As the two of them begin to unravel the case, they discover what may be a much bigger and more nefarious conspiracy than they imagined.

There are few writers working in Hollywood today who are as instantly identified with a certain kind of writing and dialogue the way that Sorkin is. His scenes are often quick paced with a fast back and forth between characters, often filled with plenty of wit and humor, even when talking about weighty or serious topics. His dialogue is intelligent and even intellectual while never being over the audience's heads. His characters and the way they talk are easy to follow, understand and relate to, and they are almost always presented as real, multi-layered human beings, with real depth and souls. While that last point may be the weakest spot in the writing in A Few Good Men (we don't get to know most of the characters in any deep or developed way) all of those other excellent qualities in Sorkin's writing are front and center in this play, as with all of his other best work.

Director Linda Lee McDonald does nothing to slow down the brisk pace usually inherent in Sorkin's writing. She does a wonderful job of keeping things moving at just the right tempo and pace, only slowing down for thoughtful dramatic pauses when they are called for or appropriate. Her movements between scenes are very well done, not letting the audience's attention lag during the quick moments when actors move from one moment to the next (save or one too-long scene shift that was notable mostly because it was so unusual). This was helped by the great set and lighting design by W. Jerome Stevenson, which created each scene perfectly and allowed the action to move seamlessly from one to the next.

McDonald also does an excellent job of using her set and staging to heighten each moment and find the maximum tension between the characters. Her blocking allows for the scenes to play out in a way that feels very believable and natural while also maximized for impact on the audience. One missed opportunity may have been the superficial treatment of the theme of sexism that isn't really given as much importance as it might, especially considering that one of the Marines accused of murder, originally a male character, is here played by a woman, something that opens a door to all kinds of layers that aren't explored here. There are moments where the delivery of a line or the blocking of a scene could potentially have raised more powerful questions about the sexism surrounding these female characters in such a male-dominated world.

At the center of the struggle to gain respect in that world is Leuitentant Commander JoAnne Galloway, determined to find the truth and justice for the accused, regardless of what the powerful men around her want her to do. Crystal Barby is excellent in the role here, tough as nails at the outset but finding some nice layers of emotion and vulnerability at appropriate moments later on. It is a role that could be very shallow or stereotypical, more of a cardboard cutout than a real person, in the hands of a lesser actress, but Barby is having none of that. She makes Galloway a very real and relateable human being, doing her best in a seemingly impossible situation and rising to the task.

Also rising to the task is Leuitanenat Daniel Kafee, who would rather be playing softaball than taking on this case that he believes he cannot possibly win. Pollard resident company member Joshua McGowen is sneaky great in the role (perhaps not sneaky to those who are more familiar with his body of work than this reviewer is). At first, his very chill, laid-back, easy going style seems maybe not right for this character but it works perfectly as the beginning of the journey that McGowan builds and creates before our eyes. His Kaffee slowly develops self-confidence and strength as he becomes a powerful champion of truth and justice. While McGowan may not have a huge stage presence, he more than makes up for it with plenty of charm, charisma and talent, all put to good use as he becomes a hero the audience can relate to and cheer for.

The movie version may be best remembered by the performance of Jack Nicholson in the role of Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Jessup, the commander of forces at Guantanmo Bay, where the code red took place. It's a powerful role that is embraced and performed fully here by James A. Huges. It's a seething, brooding performance that Hughes gives, filled with a quiet menace underlying every scene and line. Like Galloway, this is another character that could be turned in a caricature by a lesser actor than Hughes (who deserves a shirt that fits him better). He's not chewing the scenery here or twirling his evil mustache. His Jessup is a layered human being who clearly believes in what he says and does and why it's perfectly acceptable in the context of the situation.

All of the performers on stage at the Pollard are excellent in the many ensemble roles. The most imposing figure is struck by Dakota Muckelrath as Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawon, one of the accused marines. Muckelrath is a larger than life figure, intimidating and tough as nails, a very believable Marine loyal to his unit and code. Ellie Valdez is also very good as the other accused Marine, Private Louden Downey, a more emotional and less sure Marine who comes across as very real and human through Valdez's performance. Derek Kenney and Kevin Moore are both excellent as two of the other commanding officers at Guantanamo Bay, Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick and Captain Matthew A. Markinson, respectively. As Lieutenant Jack Ross, Timothy Welch gives a strong and charismatic performance in the role of the opposition lawyer sparring with Kaffee and Galloway. As part of the defense's legal team, Keegan Zimmerman brings great levels of both comedy and drama to the role of Lieutenant Sam Weinberg.

There are plenty of both comedy and drama in this wonderful production of a play that is still just as timely as when it was written. Important moments ask the audience to contemplate a range of issues well worth discussing, and while it's an important play to see for those reasons, it also makes for a great night of riveting theater.

Warning: A Few Good Men contains adult language and mature themes.

Pictured (L to R): Ellie Valdez, Dakota Muckelrath, and Joshua McGowen.

A Few Good Men runs until March 3rd at the Pollard Theatre in Guthrie, at 120 W Harrison Ave. Show times the are Friday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 8:00pm and Sunday at 2:00pm (weekend of February 25th), then Thursday at 8:00pm, Friday at 8:00pm and Saturday at 8:00pm (weekend of March 3rd). Tickets may be purchased through the company's website at www.thepollard.org or by calling the box office at 405-282-2800. Box office hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10:00am to 5:00pm and Saturday, 1:00pm to 5:00pm.



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