A Few Good Men at St Jacobs Playhouse
If you were ever in any branch of any country’s military, let alone the United States Marines, there will be things in Drayton Entertainment’s revival of Aaron Sorkin’s 1989 play, A Few Good Men, at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse that will make you cringe. No senior Marine officer would have a potbelly like that! No Marine would tie a tie that sloppily! And have you ever noticed how real Marine uniforms, even camouflage fatigues, always look like they were cleaned, pressed, and ironed ten minutes ago along with the men in them?
Well, get over it, troop. Once you get past these petty criticisms you will find a sturdy production of a well-plotted and gripping courtroom drama, put across by terrific actors who, more often than not, manage to rise above the script’s obvious debts to television clichés and sit-com joke craft.
A Few Good Men tells the story of the court martial of two Marine enlisted men stationed at Guantanamo Bay who have been charged with the murder of one of their bunkmates. But is this a cut and dried case of premeditated murder motivated by revenge? Or could it be the result of a botched Code Red – an unauthorized but widely practiced form of discipline for Marines deemed to have fallen short of standards?
Someone “upstairs” seems to want the trial to wrap up quickly. Why else assign Lt. Junior Grade Daniel Kaffee (Tyrone Savage) to the case? Kaffee, a callow Harvard grad seems to be serving out his three-year commitment to the Navy, which gave him a scholarship to attend law school, by doing as little work as possible. His forte is negotiating plea deals and never going to court to actually defend a client. If that was the plan, it gets waylaid by the arrival of Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway (Shannon Currie), a gung-ho, by-the-book Navy lawyer who has opted for a career in the Judge Advocate General’s corps because the Navy would not let her “fly the planes or drive [sic] the ships.”
Egged on by the often abrasive Galloway, Kaffee is dragged reluctantly into a seemingly doomed attempt to defend the two hapless enlisted men. If you’ve spent more than a few hours in front of a television set, you can guess how it all turns out. What makes the evening worth sitting through are the performances of an able cast under the direction of Marti Maraden and the occasional high points of Mr. Sorkin’s script.
The production benefits from a handsome and efficient set by Sean Mulcahy and effective lighting by Kevin Fraser, both reliable Drayton veterans. Costume designer Jennifer Wonnacott has provided accurate uniforms that only some of the actors wear with authority, Ms. Currie prominent among them.
I was so blown away by Ms. Maraden’s Drayton production of Twelve Angry Men last season, that I arrived at A Few Good Men with heightened expectations that were, alas, not met. Still, Ms. Maraden has elicited solid, if occasionally uneven, performances from her cast.
Mr. Savage seems initially uncertain how to take on Kaffee and the playwright’s jokey attempts to establish his character don’t help much, but he grows into the role and becomes quite impressive. Ms. Currie provides the requisite ardor as Commander Galloway, although apparently she never received the less-is-more memo. Despite the fact that his is a secondary role, Benedict Campbell, as Lt. Colonel Jessup, is the heart of the play and his Queeg-like eruption, made indelibly famous by Jack Nicholson in the film version, is as powerful a piece of acting as you’re likely to see this season. Good work, too, from Nathanial Judah and Thomas Duplessie as the accused, and especially from Alex Furber, as the fanatically religious and more than slightly deranged Lt. Kendrick. He was the only cast member who fully convinced me he was a Marine.
A minor, but to me fascinating note, was the number of first-rate actors with Stratford and Shaw Festival credentials, some of them in fairly minor roles, who make their Drayton Festival debuts in this production. They are Tim Campbell, Randy Hughson, Jim Mezon, and Tyrone Savage. Benedict Campbell, another actor with a distinguished pedigree, made his Drayton debut in Ms. Maraden’s Twelve Angry Men. It is tribute to her stature as a director that Ms. Maraden can attract such talent. Drayton is lucky to have her, now that the major festivals seem to have cast so many of their senior directors and actors adrift like ancient Inuit on ice floes.
A Few Good Men continues at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse through March 22, 2020. Unlike other Drayton productions, it will not transfer to another theatre.
St. Jacobs Country Playhouse
40 Benjamin Road East
Waterloo, ON N2V 2J9
Want to learn more? Read the script: