Ricky Jones stars as Lt. Daniel Kaffee, a U.S. Navy lawyer assigned to defend two Marines accused of murdering a fellow Marine in an act of hazing. Kaffee’s nonchalance towards the case (which he expects to result in a quick plea bargain) is challenged by Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway (played by Megan Caccamo), who believes the accused, Dawson and Downey (played by David Tuttle and Rueben Carrion) were carrying out orders. Along with Lieutenant Weinberg (played by Neil Sullivan), Kaffee and Galloway work together to defend the imprisoned Marines and investigate the sad life of the deceased, Private Santiago (played by Tully O’Reilly). The defense team eventually encounters the gruff Colonel Jessup (played by Bob Wills) and the prickly Kendrick (played by Anthony Rummel), who may hold the key to Santiago’s death. There’s also the question of a “Code Red,” a term that begins as a clue and becomes a sad phrase that lingers over the senseless murder that took place.
Jones brings gravity to his character’s journey, as Kaffee goes from being a what-me-worry schmuck to a passionately involved trial lawyer. While Jones has many of the funniest lines throughout, it’s his focus and boiling intensity during the trial scenes that stuns the most. Caccamo is excellent, finding the perfect pitch of the voice of reason who struggles to make her sound reasoning heard. Rummel makes Kendrick vividly wormy and I loved Jonathan Yudis as Markinson, the Captain tormented by his failure to save Santiago.
As Dawson, Tuttle has never been better, finding the core of his character as a soldier so obedient, his actions are both frustrating and honorable. Matching him scene for scene is Carrion, who movingly conveys Downey’s fragile state and struggle to preserve his sense of duty. Whenever Tuttle and Carrion are on stage, I found myself drawn to their work and aching from the honesty of their choices.
Wills makes a ferocious Colonel Jessup and wisely never plays him as an outright villain. Instead, his introductory scenes reminded me of a Norman Schwarzkopf-type, with a blustery warmth that gives way to an ego-driven self righteousness. Wills final scene with Jones is earth shaking and every bit as intense as one would hope. Herman Andaya brings a lot to his role as the Judge and keep an eye out for an unrecognizable Joel Agnew, shining in a bit role and looking uncannily like Pat Hingle. O’Reilly is haunting as the doomed Santiago and makes his few scenes stand out.
Everyone in the ensemble does fine work and makes their roles their own. Look, it’s not easy to make me forget about Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson but this cast pulls it off.
The set design by Caro Walker is something else, as the Historic Iao Theater stage is well dressed but has never seemed so open and bare. With no wooden backdrops, reversing set pieces and no platforms, the vast empty space is embodied fully by the cast and the focus is on the characters and Sorkin’s words. While a long, dialog-driven play, there are no slow scenes and the patter is brisk from start to finish. Another unusual touch is having the cast sit in a row of chairs at the back of the stage, openly facing the audience. While initially distracting (its especially odd to hear characters discuss Santiago while the actor playing him sits right behind them), this approach also pays off. Because the cast is right there, seated and ready to pop up on stage when required, the frequent scene transitions go by in a flash.
Veteran actor/director Scheideman makes “A Few Good Men” a lean night of dramatic fireworks and exceptional stage craft. By pairing down the normally richly decorated Iao Theater stage, the core of Sorkin’s play is presented with the utmost clarity and leaves a powerful impact.
A Few Good Men runs until May 14th at The Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are available at mauionstage.com or by calling 808-242-6969.