Oscar-Winner Sorkin Approves Local Theatre Reimagining Of A FEW GOOD MEN
It's not easy having a conversation with Joel Roster.
He's got a lot to tell you, and as the Artistic Director of a new theater company approaching its sophomore production, his manic (and yet genuinely friendly) energy runneth over when the name Aaron Sorkin comes up.
But Roster has more than one reason to be excited about the Oscar-winning author; apart from being Roster being a tremendous fan, Sorkin has given him permission to reimagine some crucial elements from his prodigious opus "A Few Good Men", especially when it comes to gender and race.
"The play was written in 1988 and takes place in 1986; we felt with race and gender inequality once again at the forefront of the public consciousness, it was more than time to tell a new story."
Indeed, with Oscar-winner Sorkin's blessing, Roster has changed the main role of Danny Kaffee to be portrayed by a woman-- but, and Roster makes this very clear: "it is with purposeful intent."
Roster approached his longtime friend and colleague Marisa Cozart to play the role popularized in the film by Tom Cruise and on Broadway by Tom Hulce. Cozart, a Bay Area staple, hasn't appeared in a play since 2008- she's been performing primarily in starring roles in musicals with companies such as Ray Of Light Theatre, 42nd Street Moon, and Tri-Valley Repertory.
"I haven't played a large role in a straight play ever," says Cozart. "The last straight play I did was 'Miracle on 34th Street' at Town Hall Theatre over 10 years ago."
In response to the question of whether or not the gender and race switching is simply a gimmick, Roster stiffens and zeroes in: "We have a very specific story to tell with two people at the center: a young woman who never wanted to be a lawyer, never wanted to be in the Navy, and whose successful father really wanted a son instead; and a highly decorated veteran who has overcome hatred and bigotry to rise to an accomplished position of power that is in danger of disappearing. THAT'S a reason to make such a massive change, not just with this work, but any existing piece-- because there is something new to discover, something new to hear, something new to say. Not just because 'hey, wouldn't this be cool'."
Cozart elaborated on her responsibility: "I think to be a female performing in a role that has historically only been played by males is a actually quite a big responsibility. It means a lot to me."
Roster, for other long-reasoned subtext, has also changed the genders of the young defendant PFC Louden Downey, and Judge Randolph, played by BRITTNEY MONROE and Ann Kendrick, respectively.
On the other side of the table sit the antagonists (Roster gets very upset at the use of the word "villains") of the piece; primarily, Marine officers Col. Nathan Jessup and Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Kendrick. For the first time (that he has seen), Roster has cast actors of color to appear in these higher military positions.
Roster approached his former "Angels In America" collaborator LaMont Ridgell to play Lt. Col. Nathan Jessup, popularized on film by Jack Nicholson. Terrance Smith portrays Kendrick.
"The trickiest thing about any production of this play is now 'how the hell do we get away from the movie and these iconic performances'," says Roster. "And the only answer is to strip the story down to its fundamental and universal truths-- honor, loyalty, and self-identification. Then rebuild."
The seldom-seen honor of reinventing such a contemporary piece isn't lost on Mr. Ridgell.
"The ramifications of reinventing the role with the author's permission is staggering," elates Ridgell. "[Jessup's] motivations are altered a bit... maybe? Maybe not. I honestly can't wait to peel back layer after layer."
PUTTING IT IN A BOX Upon losing their guaranteed space in the heart of downtown Martinez, The Other Other Theatre Company had actors committed and an author's blessing... but no space to rehearse or perform.
"After losing our space in downtown Martinez," Roster explained, "I started looking at other venues and became in love with the idea of doing this courtroom drama in the round, with the audience on all sides.
Thankfully, Bay Area director (and longtime friend of Roster) Jennifer Perry graciously offered up her Ballet School's newly built Performing Arts Studio.
"We're so deeply thankful to Jenny," exclaims Roster. It's the perfect space for what's sure to be unlike any production of this play you'll ever see. It's gonna be immediate, intense, and unforgettable."
LaMont Ridgell echoes the sentiment, regarding the audience: "They're gonna be in for the ride of their lives."
As is the company's custom, all performances are on Sunday and Monday nights-- when most other theater companies are dark. Tickets are on sale now at otherothertheatre.com.
When two Marines are charged with murder of one of their own in Guantanamo Bay, the case is given to a lazy, talented junior grade lawyer with a history of plea-bargaining. As she begins to unwrap the case with her colleagues, it may be that these two Marines may just be under orders, but to get to the truth, it's going to take outfoxing a prestigious lieutenant colonel... and he's worked too hard to let anybody take him down.