Take a heinous and tragic death and followup military intervention, infuse it with a steady supply of testosterone, and we get a show that invokes our own moral code of what and who the military is fighting for.
Set apart from its Hollywood interpretation, The Keegan Theatre’s A Few Good Men written by Alan Sorkin is a heckuva good story with human and moral implications that resonate with us. For all the marching and saluting going on, there is a strong egalitarian energy that rises above the masculine façade, even in this day, given the multitude of military court proceedings going on.
Though the critically and commercially successful movie was, amazingly, 21 years ago, it still reverberates amongst 40 year olds (and lovers of American Movie Channel) with its powerful performances laced with memorable lines. It is the large unseen artistic element hovering in the theatre for the audience, if subconscious; (Is that character like? … Oh, I remember that line.). With that challenge, the show, directed by longtime Washington area artistic icon Jeremy Skidmore provides jarring scenes exploding characters in a new light, using open sets, highlighted character spots, and a touch of nontraditional casting.
The set is an open 2-level design with a ramp that seconds as a visual flagpole for an expansive American flag casually draped over a large part of the stage–a constant symbol during the show—signifying its purpose, or the rising or lowering of our values? Kudos to set designer Steven Royal.
The action revolves around a military court-martial of two U.S. Marines, Lance Corporal Dawson (Jon Judson Odom) and Private Downey (Adi Stein), who killed a fellow Marine, Private Santiago (Nathaniel J. Mendez), at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Santiago was not fitting in and was, as his superiors stated “substandard and an outcast to his fellow Marines. Making the mistake of going around the chain of command, he attempts to get transferred off the base. When found out, he is then informally disciplined by his two company members, resulting in his death. Mendez presents a compelling cry of anguish as he stands and pleads for help. The details around his death and the culpability in this muddy environment provide the grist for the investigative lawyers, an unlikely trio assigned to the case. There is Lt. Cmdr Joanne Galloway (Brianna Letourneau) the new lawyer from internal affairs. Letourneau is all heart and optimism as she attempts to navigate a decidedly male world.
…a fascinating look into a military court, where rules of engagement are markedly different and stakes are much higher.
Lt Cmdr. Daniel Kaffee, (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) is the quick-witted, devil may care lawyer who doesn’t seem a Navy lifer. Against type, Ebrahimzadeh is darker-skinned with a shaved head, halting us from cruising to any comparisons. He easily handles the off-putting nature of the character, proud of his plea bargaining record in the Navy. Finally, Lt. JG Sam Weinberg (Michael Innocenti) is the quieter voice of reason and conscience to the group.
Set against these legal types are the ‘working’ marines at Gitmo. Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick, Dawson and Downey’s commanding officer (Jonathan Feuer) is suitably manic though a bit plastic. As the power figures, Lt. Col. Markinson (Kevin Adams) as the 2nd in command and Col. Nathan Jessup (Mark A Rhea), are the adversaries, especially Jessup, a man in total control of his world, but not others. Rhea plays a less sophisticated figure, than, eh, anticipated, but is suitably disrespectful of the lawyer trio upon their arrival at the base.
The 2nd half of the play is nicely segmented to all courtroom, all the time. The wheels are put in motion—stand up for what’s right, or let events take its course? In this crisp, taut show, the lawyers find out just as much about themselves as their case. Kaffee finds out what it means to really take a stand in life. It is also a fascinating look into a military court, where rules of engagement are markedly different and stakes are much higher. Scenes crackle with excitement, interspersed with Marine chants and marches, as the action moves to the final crescendo. Is it worth it to pursue where Kaffee needs to go for acquittal?
A talented 17 person cast and engrossing theatre, exploring a world we don’t inhabit, but we are protected by every day.
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes with an intermission.
A Few Good Men is presented by The Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St NW Washington, DC 20036 from August 10 – September 14. For tickets to this or other performances in the 2013 season, call the information line at (703) 892-0202 or click here.