Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Theater review: A Few Good Men at Irving Arts Center
It's rare you can see such a level of talent gathered on one stage.
Aaron Sorkin is one of the great writers of our time. His hits include The American President, The West Wing, The Social Network, Moneyball, and the iconic military courtroom drama A Few Good Men. Debuting on Broadway in 1989 and Oscar nominated for 1993 Best Picture, A Few Good Men made the rare successful jump from stage to screen.
Centering around a court-martial hearing, A Few Good Men (playing through June 16) tells a couple stories, one story of the hubris of Col. Nathan Jessep and a story of redemption for Lt. j.g. Daniel Kaffee. With excellent technical aspects and incredible acting, ICT Mainstage brings these stories to life in beautiful detail.
Upon first entering the Dupree Theater at the Irving Arts Center the audience was abruptly made aware of the location of A Few Good Men with the set dressing. A barbed wire fence line crossed the stage, with a sentry tower manned by an armed guard, stage right. This scene, a stark reminder of the lives led by the characters, loomed over the entire play like a spectre. Tables, chairs, and desks set the scenes in numerous playing areas on raked platforms in a very effective, utilitarian style fitting for a military setting. Ellen Doyle Mizener showed great aptitude in filling a stage without cluttering it and established the tone of a play before it began with strong visuals. I look forward to more of her set designs.
The set design was enhanced by the fantastic lighting by Ian Garland. Lights on the white backdrop reflected the mood and time of day of a scene simultaneously. Also, the lights defined the playing areas and created quick, seamless changes that flowed from one scene to the next.
The costumes for A Few Good Men showed incredible attention to detail. Down to the differing stripes on the sleeves of the dress uniforms of Lt. Cmdr. Galloway, Lt. j.g. Weinberg, and Lt. j.g. Kaffee demonstrating their differing ranks, the costumes looked like authentic military uniforms. There wasn't a single character that looked out of place because of their costumes. However, along with military uniforms come metal, lots of it. Some of the pieces should have been dulled to prevent the reflection of stage lights blinding the audience.
Using cadence, the rhythmic singing used to keep time while running in the military, as scene change music was an incredibly powerful choice. Fernando Lara's relentless use of sound did not allow the audience a chance to relax and process what they were seeing. Even during the intermission no music played. There was just the sound effect of a gentle, evening storm.
ICT Mainstage collected some of DFW's finest actors for this production. Rachel Robertson deserved special kudos for earning the only woman's role. As the overly-thorough bureaucrat who dreams of being a trial lawyer, Robertson showed why she deserved the role of Lt. Cmdr. JoAnne Galloway. Her officious demeanor didn't win the Commander any friends early in the show. But as the play progressed she showed her human side, even breaking down in believable tears after her inadequacies as a trial lawyer were revealed.
Another actor who deserved special recognition was Charles Maxham who took the stage mere hours after suffering a medical emergency the night before. Not only did he turn in one of the best performances of the year, he was on stage for nearly the entire 165 minute run time of A Few Good Men. Maxham showed great range playing the loveable goof who doesn't take his job as a military lawyer seriously, then becoming a shrewd strategist in the court room in order to bring the correct men to justice. If he could turn in a better performance at 100% health, I would be impressed.
Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep, played by Gary Anderson, was the foul-mouthed, arrogant, commanding officer at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Gary Anderson's soft-spoken nature did not lend itself well to the character. With different direction, he may have given Lt. Col. Jessep a frightening, quiet intensity. However in this case, as in the scene where Jessep intimidates Kaffee as Kaffee is leaving Jessep's office, the Lt. Col. lacked the power necessary to pull off what he was attempting. Anderson's performance in no way hindered the play. He was an excellent performer. But his gentle nature, suitable for Capt. Von Trapp, made him ill fit for the role of Lt. Col. Jessep.
The greatest intensity was demonstrated by Jason Lunn as Lt. Johnathan James Kendrick, a bible-thumping, Southern marine who believes in and follows Lt. Col. Jessep's strict code. Lunn was intimidating as he screamed orders in the faces of the soldiers under his command. He showed unwavering assertiveness and contempt for Kaffee while on the witness stand. I only wish the character had a more in depth arc to see of what Jason Lunn was capable.
The production's only drawback was the pace. Aaron Sorkin's scripts are known to be wordy and the dialogue should be delivered snappy and crisp. The 165 minute run time of the show was evidence that the lines were not coming quick enough. Overall, the show did very well at holding the audience's attention. Although the first act did leave me with the tired feeling of sitting through a full play and a little weary to go in for Act 2.
I highly recommend seeing A Few Good Men at ICT Mainstage. It's rare you can see such a level of talent gathered on one stage. And the talent was only enhanced by the set, the lights, the sounds, and the costumes. A Few Good Men is one of the best shows of the 2012 season.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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