Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Sorkin loosely based his play on a mid-1980s case of military hazing that turned into murder among U.S. Marines based in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The play pits the slick, slightly smart-ass lawyer Lt. Kaffee against the domineering Col. Nathan Jessep, the Guantanamo Bay base commander, as the court-martial trial of the two U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a troubled young solider unfolds with twists, turns, and plenty of intrigue.
The play is filled with a host of realistic characters and crackerjack dialogue that pops under Diane Senffner's clear and concise direction. As Kaffee and Jessep, Kellen Garner and Mickey Bryce deliver nuanced performances full of fire and passion. Garner does very well in showing how this man who is known to prefer to plea bargain his cases and play softball changes once he realizes the two men on trial may not be guilty. Garner's ability to portray what Kaffee is thinking with expert facial expressions and gestures works well, especially in the courtroom scenes when things don't always go the way he plans and he has to change his strategy. Garner commands the stage as this flippant, charming and slightly self-centered man. Bryce is steadfast and steely as Jessep, a man who is as adept at quoting from "Moby Dick" as he is at doing whatever is necessary to protect his men and himself. Bryce finds a way to interject a biting sense of humor into the part which makes Jessep completely three dimensional as well as scary as hell, since you never know what he is truly thinking or will do next. Bryce's ferocious but never out of character delivery of the play's most famous line, about not being able to handle the truth, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Kelly Fulcher is exceptional as Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway, the Internal Affairs lawyer who believes there is more to the case than it seems and who desperately wants to represent the two soldiers, only to discover that the case has been given to Kaffee. She brings a lot of compassion to this young woman who is a fighternot only for the rights of those on trial but also in the many altercations she has with Kaffee, Jessep, and the constant stream of military men she is forced to deal with. Tyler Galley and Ryan Marcham deliver refined performances full of empathy of the two confused soldiers on trial who believe they were doing their job, following orders, and didn't do anything wrong.
In smaller parts, Kevin Tye brings a strong sense of relentless duty and a huge dose of fear to the part of Lt. Jonathan Kendrick who will stop at nothing to serve god, his country, and the Corps, while Tyler Boettcher adds some moments of levity as Kaffee's co-council Lt. Sam Weinberg, and Chris Fidler brings a realistic sense of the behind the scenes negotiations of military law to prosecutor Jack Ross. Janis Webb is all business as the judge overseeing the case and Clayton Marlowe is full of compassion and morals as the one high ranking military man who attempts to do the right thing. Also, Charlie LeSueur and Clinton Vance do very well in two cameo roles.
Senffner's direction provides a clear delineation between the legal and military sides of the case with the smart use of two desks, one on each side of the stage, that represent both the various legal and military offices in the pre-courtroom scenes and then are also used for the two legal bases in court. Her staging is clean and always concise, and she derives strong performances from every actor in the cast no matter how large the part. Bryce designed the simple set, which features a row of barbed wire fence in the back so that the fence that we hear discussed many times in Guantanamo Bay is always present, with the lighting design that both he and Senffner collaborated on delivering some beautiful images, especially for the scenes in the brig. Diana Grubb's costumes are authentic and exceptional. My one small quibble has to do with the use of music tracks from the film score soundtrack during scene changes and a few times as musical underscoring. While the tracks serve the play well, the same bits are repeated over and over again, a slight detriment in this otherwise very good production.
Sorkin's A Few Good Men is a swiftly paced play with intelligent dialogue, intrigue, and interesting characters that builds to an explosive courtroom climax. With a very good cast, skilled direction, and good creative elements, Zao's is an expert production of this very well-crafted play.
The Zao Theatre production of A Few Good Men runs through March 11th, 2017, with performances at Centerstage Church, 550 South Ironwood Drive in Apache Junction. You can get information and tickets by visiting www.zaotheatre.com. Tickets can also be ordered by calling 602-320-3275.
Written by Aaron Sorkin