★★★★☆ - Delicious
Most productions of Aaron Sorkin’s brilliantly scripted “A Few Good Men” deliver an imitation of the film. Let’s jump off the ledge, and get to it. That’s not the case here.
As directed by Joe Hynes for Magnolia Productions, the current offering at the Onyx stays true to the script without mimicry. LtJG Daniel A. Kaffee and Lt Col Nathan R. Jessup are two of the most instantly recognizable characters in film history; the courtroom scene one of the most iconic. Ryan Remark (Kaffee) and Glenn Heath (Jessup) make these characters their own.
Remark brings an easy swagger to his role, without coming off as the snotty, entitled Harvard grad. He’s genuine, he’s funny, and you can’t help but like him, which is why Kaffee gets away with his behavior. Remark is spot on through the entire journey. The changes take place not just because of the words but because of the way Remark brings the physical to his role. You can see the changes taking place slowly, his transitions are smooth and come as reactions to the experiences.
Heath makes Jessup a real person. Jessup still comes across as the demanding, condescending bully, the man who thinks the insignia on his collar is all that’s needed to deserve respect. When the courtroom scene comes along–the one every audience member waits for with glee–Heath makes the now-iconic lines his own. He brings indignation and anger to the role. We still hate the character as we should, but Heath adds layers of hurt and confusion to the mix and remind us Jessup is still a human being.
There’s something about the role of Lt Cdr JoAnne Galloway that Jillian Petrelli misses. There’s a transition that doesn’t fully emerge. That’s not to say Petrelli does a poor job. She takes ownership, using the entire instrument at her disposal. She’s properly indignant, overly-zealous at the start and loosens up at the end, but we don’t see it slowly evolve in repartee with Kaffee.
Gregory Gaskill, as Lt Jack Ross, brings a confidence to the role that slowly erodes as he realizes his case is falling apart. Each time he offers a deal his stance is just slightly shorter, the shoulders droop a tiny bit more. His stunned reaction in the courtroom reaches his feet. Yet, he remains every bit the Marine as he moves to execute his duty.
This is a large cast and Hynes chose his actors well. The entire company does a very credible job. Of particular note are Alexander C. Sund as LCprl Harold Dawson and Devin Samarin as PFC Louden Downey. These two characters get the least amount of attention, yet they are the cog around which everything revolves; they are the defendants whose lives are on the line. Samarin and Sund are on stage a good bit of the time without dialogue, and both actors are always in the scene. They listen, they react. When the two deliver the most poignant lines of the entire play, it’s enough to make you want jump out of your seat and hug them.
The average theatre-goer most likely won’t notice, but pointing out flaws is my job. Details are important. Rank insignia are wrong or missing entirely, and officer’s uniforms would never be anything but crisply-ironed. When Lt Junior Grade Kaffee comes on stage with the same shoulder insignia as Lt Commander Galloway, it’s noticeable. Rod Dietrich’s (in various roles) wrinkled uniform doesn’t fit; his appearance would get him thrown in the brig or discharged. When Clayton Bailey, playing Lt Sam Weinberg, carries two bottles of beer with the necks precariously tipped toward the floor it immediately snaps us out of the story when he and Remark drink from them because we know they’re empty.
One overlooked detail dilutes two very integral scenes. At the very beginning, Dawson and Downey salute Kaffee, it then gets left out in subsequent scenes. So, when Kaffe asks later, “What happened to saluting an officer?” and Dawson shoves his hands into his pockets in defiance, it feels watered down. At the very end, when Dawson calls himself to attention and delivers a perfectly executed salute, the power behind the act is weakened.
Gaskill’s set works well on the small stage, and is enhanced by Cory Covell’s lighting. The sound designed by Heath, particularly at the top of the show, immediately conjures the right environment and mood.
The production overcomes its flaws with very solid performances that make it worth the price of admission.
What: A Few Good Men
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday through July 3
5 p.m. Sunday June 19, 26, July 3
Where: Onyx Theatre, 953-16B E Sahara Avenue
Tickets: $20 (702-732-7225; www.onyxtheatre.com)
Grade: **** (Delicious)
Producer: Magnolia Productions; Director: Joe Hynes; Set Design: Gregory Gaskill; Lighting Design: Cory Covell; Sound Design: Glenn Heath; Stage Manager: Faith Read; Wardobe Alterations: Diana Eden