BWW Reviews: Keegan Theatre Delivers A FEW GOOD MEN

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Jeremy Skidmore and the actors at Keegan Theatre are reason enough to head to Church Street to see Aaron Sorkin's courtroom drama A Few Good Men. Skidmore's direction and the strong performances by the acting company elevate a standard court room drama into a compelling must-see event.

A Few Good Men is loosely based on a case of hazing gone wrong among U. S. Marines at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from the mid-1980s. A troubled young Marine dies as a result of a retaliatory bullying - known as a Code Red. The base commanders attempt a cover up and two Marines are arrested. When the investigation digs deeper into the case, the stakes grow higher as the code by which the Marines live - "Unit. Corps. God. Country." - takes the stand.

Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway, an earnest young attorney in the Navy Judge Advocate General Corps, begs to look into the Guantanamo case. She must contend with Lt. JG Daniel Kaffee, a slick, smart-ass lawyer who prefers plea bargains and playing softball than going to trial. In fact the court martial is his first time entering a court room.

Brianna Letourneau brings a strong sense of duty and focus to the crusading Commander Galloway. As her foil and eventual co-counsel, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh steps up to the plate and hits a home run as Lt. Kaffee, and not just in the softball scene. Ebrahimzadeh inhabits Kaffee's complex skin - flippant, smart, charming, and irritating - with ease. After seeing this actor in many solid supporting roles (Boged for Theatre J, Side Man, 1st Stage, and his magnificent turn as Musa in Bengal Tiger at the Bagdhad Zoo for Round House last year), it is wonderful to see Ebrahimzadeh command the stage effortlessly as Kaffee.

The other legal eagles offer firm support for Letourneau and Ebrahimzadeh. As defense co-council Weinberg, Keegan member Michael Innocenti lightens the proceedings when needed, while Bradley Foster Ross is convincing as prosecutor Capt. Jack Ross.

The Marine officers of Guantanamo deliver commanding performances, as well. Kevin Adams is fine as the morally challenged Lt. Colonel Markinson, while Jonathan Feuer has a field day with the zealot Lt. Kendrick. Each character's version of what is acceptable conduct within their disciplined world is a study in contrasts: Kendrick will stop at nothing to serve God and the Corps, whereas Markinson's conscience weighs in to trump his loyalty to their code.

No such wavering of conscience exists in Col. Nathan Jessep, the base commander who makes all other servicemen in Sorkin's play look like - well, let's say a popular term for female genitalia. With a wicked sense of humor barely masking a crazy-like-a-fox demeanor, Jessep can quote Melville and dress down a Marine in practically the same breathe. Keegan founder and artistic director Mark A. Rhea is a flinty and squinty son-of-bitch as Jessep. Rhea masterfully peels away Jessep's strong defenses, building to an electrically charged courtroom showdown.

The exceptional acting company is rounded out by the men who play the victim and the accused murderers, respectively. Nathaniel Mendez shows the complex fragility of Pfc. Santiago, who dies as a result of the Code Red disciplinary action. As the defendants standing trial, Jon Hudson Odom and Adi Stein inhabit the roles of Corporal Dawson and Private Downey with compelling skill. It is easy to wish they receive harsh punishment while empathizing with their plight as men of duty just carrying out orders.

With swift pacing and military precision, Jeremy Skidmore keeps production building to the climatic court martial. Skidmore's direction is a perfect match for the impressive scenic design by Stephen Royal which incorporates a fallen American flag motif. The shifts of perspective and use of the entire stage and audience space helps draw the audience into the intriguing story.

As theatrically surprising as the staging and set design can be, Chelsey Schuller's costumes earn a salute for looking thoroughly authentic, fatigues to dress whites.

Being a fan of Aaron Sorkin's film and television work ("The West Wing" and HBO's "The Newsroom" immediately come to mind), it struck me that Sorkin was only 28 when this play opened on Broadway in late 1989. A Few Good Men has hints of Sorkin's more mature writing - the intelligent dialogue, sharp social commentary, and certainly has its fair share of quotable lines.

Speaking of lines to quote, we can thank the 1992 film version of "A Few Good Men" and Jack Nicholson's ferocious roaring of Col. Jessep's "You can't handle the truth!"

As I watched the play, the line that really reveals Jessep's justification for his orders and the actions of his Marines is even more telling. "We live in a world that has walls and those walls need to be guarded by men with guns."

The true tragedy of William Santiago's hazing and death is summed up by a different character, Lance Corporal Dawson, just after he learns his sentence is pronounced. "We were supposed to fight for the people who couldn't fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willie."

PHOTO CREDIT: C. Stanley Photography

Keegan Theatre's A FEW GOOD MEN has been extended to September 14, 2013. Performances run Thursday-Saturday, 8 pm; Sunday, 3 pm. The running time is two hours, 25 minutes with an intermission. Recommended for mature audiences for language, violence and subject matter.

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From This Author Jeffrey Walker