Arlington — I found myself in a unique position at the opening night of Theatre Arlington’s production of A Few Good Men: I’m fairly certain, giving the number of people quoting lines from it, that I was one of the only people in the theater (possibly the country at this point) who’d never seen any version of the piece. I wasn’t purposefully avoiding it or anything; I just always seemed to catch the film version on midway through at the gym, or on a lazy Saturday afternoon, and thought, “That looks like something you’d need to start from the beginning.” And as it turns out, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to see Theatre Arlington’s production of Aaron Sorkin’s work with a fresh eye. While the performers en masse sometimes struggled to keep up with Sorkin’s trademark rapid-fire dialogue, the production was, on the whole, enjoyable.
For those people like me who are uninitiated into the Sorkin mysteries, A Few Good Men tells the tale of two Marines accused of murdering a fellow soldier and the attorneys assigned to their case who discover that the murder is part of a larger conspiracy. As the show kicks off, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Jake Harris) and Pfc. Louden Downey (Sean Sicard) sit stewing in the brig on their base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba after a hazing incident seemingly gone wrong leads to the death of their colleague, Pfc. William Santiago. They are assigned an attorney, Daniel Kaffee (Josh Batty), a bright but unmotivated lawyer just doing his time in the Navy before leaving for a high-powered position in the private sector. Kaffee is known for avoiding the courtroom at all costs and seeking plea bargains for his clients, and he’s inclined to take that path here. But his colleague in JAG, Joanne Galloway (Jenna Anderson), a talented investigator but a terrible trial lawyer, reviews the case and becomes convinced that there’s more to the case than a simple hazing gone wrong. Together they dig deeper, travelling to Cuba to investigate the circumstances of the death, and meeting the accused men’s superior officers, the militantly religious Lieutenant Kendrick (Aaron LeDay) and Colonel Nathan Jessep, a dedicated officer with aspirations toward a position in Washington. Joanne, sure that a cover-up’s in progress, pushes Kaffee to take the case to trial rather than make a deal. As more secrets are revealed, Kaffee finds his passion for the law, and goes head-to-head with Jessep on the stand in the play’s dramatic (and oft-quoted) conclusion.
Directed by longtime Theatre Arlington contributor and Executive Producer Steven D. Morris, Theatre Arlington’s production is flawed, but enjoyable. Josh Batty’s Kaffee is loose and likeable, and the chemistry he shares with Anderson’s Joanne and Robbie Clark as friend and fellow attorney on the case Sam Weinberg feels very genuine. Anderson gives a sharp performance as Joanne, not shying away from the character’s inherent awkwardness, and keeping her interactions with Batty passionate, but never romantic—a tricky feat. Darius R. Booker’s villainous Jessep is, unfortunately, somewhat one-note, and several of his more prominent speeches lack the depth suggested by the script. The cast even boasts some real military experience: Aaron LeDay, who portrays Lieutenant Kendrick, served in the Marine Corps, and it shows in his crisp physicality.
On the whole, the show suffers from some pacing issues; the dialogue doesn’t always move at the requisite clip, and scenes requiring rapid back-and-forth exchanges between characters sometimes fall flat. Some indication of which scenes are flashbacks in time might be helpful; though for the most part I could keep track of when the action was taking place, some visual clue, perhaps through lighting, would have made it less of an effort. The show’s energy, too, lagged somewhat in the first act (clocking in at an hour and 15 minutes) at the performance reviewed, though picked up in the propulsive second act. The final, familiar confrontation between Kaffee and Jessep on the stand (hotly anticipated by the audience; several husbands leaned over to whisper Jessep’s classic line, “You can’t handle the truth!” to their wives the instant he took the stand) lives up to expectations.
The production design from Kevin Brown and scenic artist Angie Glover is spare, but effective, with its most prominent features being the military-style fence lining the back of the stage and the large Marine Corp insignia centered on the stage floor; other locations, like Jessep’s office or Kaffee’s apartment, are suggested primarily by moving pieces of furniture around, transitions done in the dark and made interesting by the military-style chants performed by the cast as the changes were made. The costuming (by Janice Pennington) is, of a necessity, not the most exciting, but crisp and convincing.
A worthwhile production overall, Theatre Arlington’s A Few Good Men is an enjoyable way to get to know this early Sorkin work. After all, who doesn’t love a good courtroom drama?