Utilizing a minimalist set and military issued uniforms, (by Set Designer Terry Averill and Costume Coordinator Beth Terranova), Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men, directed by Jeff Sprague, is an intensely-charged, high-octane production on stage at The Colonial Players in Annapolis, MD. The simplicity of a few wooden tables and chairs, along with military garb, is what makes this production so effective. By pushing the production aspects aside it allows the script and the actors to take the lead.
The basic plot is the trial of two marines who are being charged with murder in the 2nd degree. However, as the trial lawyers dig deeper into the actions of the two marines, the deceased marine’s character, and the question of duty vs. misconduct, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson, USMC (Jamie Austin Jacobs) and Private First Class Louden Downey USMC’s, (Fred Fletcher–Jackson) futures look very grim.
Private William T. Santiago, USMC, (Sam Morton) is the victim of a “code red” which is meant for a soldier who may be shirking his duties or does not fit in the corp. Unfortunately, in Santiago’s case the “code red” went too far. Morton, on stage for a few scenes, speaks with a trembling tone and hands shaking, shows Santiago’s desperation after witnessing a Corporal shooting a round of ammunition over the fence.
Remarkably, actors Jacobs and Jackson maintain a stoic, non-emotional state throughout in their roles as Dawson and Downey. Their characters are more non-verbal as they are constantly barraged with intense questioning by both prosecuting and defending councils.
Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway, USN, JAG Corps (Erin Hill) believes in the innocence of Dawson and Downey. Hill is poised and savvy as LC Galloway and while she is tough as nails as an attorney, her empathy is drawn to the surface. Galloway is a good woman and Hill is self-confident and tough interacting with her two counterparts Lieutenant Kaffee (Paul Valleau) and Lieutenant Weinberg (Brandon Bentley).
Valleau is a natural as Kaffee showing that his character is confident yet vulnerable at the same time. Kaffee has a scathing wit he uses to get through challenges that he’s not sure he can win and Valleau delivers with perfect sarcastic timing.
In addition to his odd humor, Valleau is cute and charming just as his character believes but grapples at being flirtation with JoAnne. Valleau and Hill share a cautious chemistry with these characters, and hopefully in the end they will go out for that drink.
Lieutenant Sam Weinberg, USN, JAG Corps (Brandon Bentley) at first is a man of few words but is quite observant and knowledgeable to his surroundings. Often Bentley is seated with his hands clasped and his head lowered as if his character is in deep thought. What makes Weinberg a likable character is how Bentley delivers his lines with a gentle tone that makes one want to listen. Additionally, Weinberg’s honor and heart is with his family – especially his 14 month old baby girl and that is where Bentley’s charm radiates.
Captain Jack Ross, USMC (Pat Reynolds) is the knowledgeable prosecuting attorney who knows the law, the Marines, and his counterpart, Kaffee, in court. Reynolds portrays Ross as an honorable man, who wants to make sure that justice prevails. Very much like the Weinberg character, these are the few men that are really good men. Reynolds shows this when his character treats the opposing council with respect. The Captain likes Kaffee, they have been good friends for a few years but confidently he also knows how to beat Kaffee in court.
Captain Isaac Whitaker, USN, (Bill Deck) is another character that – while easy going – struggles with the trial of Dawson and Downey. Deck is laid-back in this role with mannerisms like sitting on a desk, hands loosely crossed over his leg while meeting with Kaffee, Galloway, and Weinberg. He believes in the corp’s code, is genuinely a nice guy, but plays tug-o-war between corp obligation and what is right.
On the other side of the coin is Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, USMC (David Thompson) who is nothing but the corp code of: unit, corp, ‘God and Country,’ through and through. Thompson is excellent as Jessup exhibiting both grit and uncompromising toughness through clenched teeth and balled fists. His language in the court room is powerful along with his cocky, arrogant attitude, as he vehemently yells and spews in Kaffee’s face. “You want me on that wall; you need me on that wall!” Thompson supplies moving dialogue that makes one wonder if his character just may be right.
Like Jessup, Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick, USMC (Ben Wolff) is all about the corp and the code as well. Excessively duty-focused and a hard-core bible thumper, Kendrick exemplifies all that is wrong with narrow-minded leadership. Wolff takes Kendrick to a level and is the character that will leave one shaking their head, wanting to yell, “Why are you so dang crazy?”
Dave Carter as Commander Dr. Stone, USN, MC, garners a lot of empathy for this character. His back is up against the wall with the “possibilities” for Santiago’s cause of death and the doctor could invariably be held responsible. Stone is another confident character but as the trial nears and he is put on the stand, Carter shows the worrisome side of the good doctor.
Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Markinson, USMC, (Bill Coffin) pushes the truth to the forefront only to discover all he knows of the Marines is being challenged. Coffin is tough as Markinson and gives a striking performance. The character treads a fine line between honor and honesty.
Jeff Mocho is the impartial Judge Colonel Julius Alexander Randolph, USMC, who presides over the trial. He gives latitude when needed and accepts an objection when warranted. Another one of the few good men, Mocho makes this likable character who is professional, approachable, and reasonable.
The excellent ensemble includes: Erik Schultz (MP/Sergeant-at-Arms,) Stevie Mangum, who takes on the three roles of Lieutenant Everson, Corporal Brewster, and a member of the Marine Ensemble, Andrew Seabrook (Sergeant Thom, and a member of the Marine Ensemble, Isaac J. Everett (Corporal Dunn, and a member of the Marine Ensemble), Kyle Esham (Corporal Hammaker, and a member of the Marine Ensemble), Ethan Goldberg (Corporal Jeffrey Howard), and Lyanna Morton, who plays Senior Airman McConnell.
The Colonial Players’ A Few Good Men is a riveting military courtroom drama that draws a thin line between following an order vs. breaking the law. The trio of Valleau, Hill, and Bentley work equally well together and bring a balance between their characters personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. This is an incredibly strong cast that plays both sides of the argument so believably, that to draw a conclusion of guilty or not guilty is not that simple.
Running Time: 2 hours, including a 15-minute intermission.