Friday, September 18, 2015

Review: A Few Good Men at Lakewood Playhouse

Published in The News Tribune, Sept. 17, 2015

(L to R):  JACOB TICE (Kaffee), JIM ROGERS (Sam) and CASSIE JO FASTABEND (Jo)  from the Lakewood Playhouse Production of "A FEW GOOD MEN"

All photos by Kate Paterno-Link
Celebrating 50 years in the same building at Lakewood Mall, Lakewood Playhouse opens its 77th season with the compelling courtroom drama “A Few Good Men” by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Beau M.K. Prichard and featuring a world-class performance by Jacob Tice and an outstanding ensemble cast, notably Aaron Mohs-Hale, K.E. Jenkins, Christian Carvajal, and Jenifer Rifenbery.
Sorkin, of “The West Wing” fame, never backs away from controversial subjects. In “A Few Good Men” he highlights the worst aspects of military culture, most dramatically, blind loyalty and unquestioning obedience to the code of “Unit, Corps, God and Country.”
In program notes, Prichard wrote, “The script also cleverly side-steps nakedly criticizing the armed forces by having other service members, not civilians, ask the hard questions.” But whether the questions are asked by the military or by civilians, the macho, misogynistic attitudes and unquestioning obedience to authority are put on stark display in this play.

(L to R): THE ENSEMBLE of the Lakewood Playhouse Production of "A FEW GOOD MEN"

The set by Prichard and James Venturini and lighting by Daniel Cole establish a dark and foreboding world unlike any world known by people who have never been in the military. Upstage left is a guard tower dimly lighted with a red-orange glow and manned throughout the play by soldiers who never say anything other than the oncoming sentry saying he is relieving the other sentry from duty. This, coupled with offstage voices and sound effects and the sharp movements of nearly all actors (with the notable exception of Jacob Tice as a Naval lawyer, lieutenant junior grade Kaffee who disdains military formality) creates a tense atmosphere that intensifies the already intense conflict Kaffee and his team of defense lawyers and everyone else – namely the prosecutor, Lt. Ross (Tom Phiel) and the soldiers based at Guantanamo Bay from the lowest ranked enlisted men to base commander Lt. Col. Jessep (James A. Gilletti). The rest of the set is an almost bare stage with a few tables and chairs, and off to one corner upstage right are the iron bars and hard bunks of a cell in the brig.
Tice is funny, loveable and, when need be, strong and magisterial as Lt. Kaffee. In the beginning he is a fun-loving jokester who seems to care nothing for his job or for the military, but this is all façade masking a deep commitment to justice. He is forced to take onto his team a female lawyer from Internal Affairs, Lt. Cmdr. Galloway (Cassie Jo Fastabend), who is aggressive and determined and who, at first, can’t stand Kaffee. And he brings in as a back-up and yes-man his best buddy, Lt. Sam Weinberg (Jim Rogers), who turns out to be a much better lawyer than he at first seems. The repartee between these three elevates the humanity factor.
Two young marines, Lance Cpl. Dawson (Aaron Mohs-Hale) and Pfc. Downey (K.E. Jenkins) have been arrested on murder charges and have confessed to the crime, but first Galloway and later Kaffee are convinced that the death of their fellow marine, William Santiago (offstage voiceover by Jacob Henthorn) was an accident caused by a hazing incident ordered by the base commander, Lt. Col. Jessep (James A. Gilletti). Jessep is a hard-nosed, no-nonsense commander who thinks the rules are for everyone except him. He is stiff and formal and harbors a lot of anger that comes out explosively in the trial scene when Kaffee questions his motives and methods.
“A Few Good Men” is a harsh drama acted with intensity by a large ensemble cast and sprinkled liberally with adult language that may be offensive to some audience members. The acting, the directing, and most of all Sorkin’s superb script are of the highest quality. I can’t recommend it enough.

WHAT: A Few Good Men
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 11
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $25.00, $22.00 military, $21.00 seniors and $19.00 students/educators, pay what you can
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Also see Travis Earl Warner’s review in the Weekly Volcano and Michael Dresdner’s review

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