The Column Online



By Aaron Sorkin

Theatre Arlington

Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson – Jake Harris
Pfc. Louden Downey – Sean Sicard
Lt. j.g. Sam Weinberg – Robbie Clark
Lt. j.g. Daniel A Kaffee – Josh Batty
Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway – Jenna Anderson
Capt. Issac Whitaker – Jonathan Russell
Capt. Matthew Markinson – Greg Phillips
Pfc. William Santiago – August Riehle
Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep – Darius R. Booker
Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick – Aaron LeDay
Lt. Jack Ross – Sean Massey
Cpl. Jeffery Owen Howard – Nik Blocker
Capt. Julius Alexander Randolph – Kelley Garland
Cmdr. Walter Stone – Truman Thompson
Lt. Dave Spradling – Eric Helsel
Hammaker / Lyle / Orderly – Kalumba David Tshibangu
Tom / Dunn / Sgt. At Arms – Tyler Moody
MP / Thomas – Tim Crabb

Director – Steven D. Morris
Stage Manager – Rebecca Rickey
Set Designer – Kevin Brown
Lighting Designer – Kyle Harris
Sound Designer – Bill Eickenloff
Costume Designer – Janice Pennington
Properties Designer – Robin Dotson
Scenic Artist – Angie Glover
Assistant Scenic Artist – Mary Thomas
Set Construction – Lazaro Espinoza
Light Board Operator – Jessica Lesser
Graphic Designer – Alan Beam
Photographer – Eric Younkin

Reviewed Performance: 3/30/2019

Reviewed by Travis McCallum, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

“A Few Good Men” is a story about a military legal’s team’s fight to bring justice for wrongly accused men in a court martial. Written in 1989, the play has been adapted into a movie which I have not seen. It is also my first time attending Theatre Arlington which I am pleased to praise their accommodating and beautiful theatre space.

I am a military veteran myself so this show was particularly rewarding to watch, as I can relate to many of the situations these characters find themselves in. As a whole, the production value is incredibly great to watch and I found myself engaged from the very get-go.

You might find some of the language to be hard to follow since the script is written with very historical lines in military, legal and medical jargon. But I found the actor’s artfully convey the language in layman’s terms whenever possible.

This is an intense play with plenty of tense moments putting the audience on the edge of their seats. My favorite part of it all is how Director Steve D. Morris dramatizes the court room scenes.

Play special attention to the contrasting scenes between the Marine Corps way of doing things in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba & the Navy legal team’s world in Washington, D.C. The startling difference between the two is highly relevant to the communication disconnect of all parties involved.

More importantly, the contrast drives the plot forward as secrets and understanding reveal themselves over the duration of the play. In each of the characters, there is a story to be told, a piece of the puzzle that makes things whole. And it all begins with our two military personnel being detained for the crime in question.

Cpl. Dawson (Harris) reminds me of the stoic soldier, unwavering in his line of duty. Harris shows us the ultimate form of discipline and obedience. His resolve to follow orders to the bitter end reflected his loyalty to the U.S. Marine Corps. As Harris stated, when he signed up for the military, it was a lifetime commitment. We see this towards the end of the second act, until he begins to question the morality of following orders blindly on the subject of right & wrong.

Pfc. Downey (Sicard) feels like a scared little boy who was afraid to disobey orders. The lawyers pounced on his weakness to pull vital information to try and win their case. Sicard always looked to Cpl. Dawson for permission when he was unsure of how to respond. With pleas to protect his comic book collection, and expressions of fear throughout the entire show, Sicard reminded me of a puppy wincing in pain and taking a beating for just following orders.

Lt. j.g. Weinberg (Clark) played the comical sidekick to protagonist Lt. Kaffee, accompanying him throughout the criminal case. He quipped with jokes and impressions of the other characters behind their back, often with exaggerated body language becoming of a character actor. I particularly enjoyed Clark’s expressive nature. To enrich is development, Lt. Weinberg candidly shows vulnerability in his family life, specifically with his baby daughter. Here we get a glimpse at the somber reality he contends with, explaining why he jokes the way he does.

Lt. j.g. Kaffee (Batty) is the star of the show and carries the criminal case on his back as a junior lawyer, purposely setup for failure. From his initial entrance, we see a man not interested in his line of work, nonchalantly dismissing Lt. Weinberg’s urgency. He would much rather spend his time on the softball field, coaching players. So why then become a lawyer?

It becomes painfully clear that Lt. Kaffee had big shoes to fill in his father’s shadow. We see the expectation others place on him to do great things. His father’s death 7 years ago plays a heavy toll on his heart. “Do you think my father would be proud that I graduated from law school?” Lt. Kaffee remarks to Weinberg.

What I love most about Batty is his energy and enthusiasm for the role. He drives the momentum of the show and prevents anything from getting bogged down so we never become disengaged from what is happening onstage. He projects clearly, with solid inflection across the entire spectrum of emotions.

Angry outbursts to defeated dejection contrast varying degrees depending on the context of the scene. For instance, in his apartment beside Lt. Weinburg & Lt. Cmdr. Galloway he loses his shit visibly throwing the file box and screams to the Lt. Commander to get out. And later after the court case is ends, he turns her down for a drink at the bar to contemplate the outcome in thoughtful retrospect.

Lt. Cmdr Galloway (Anderson), or Jo as she likes to be called, is the only female in the cast. In an industry dominated by men, Lt. Cmdr. Galloway asserts herself aggressively to accomplish any goal. One famous phrase she utters in court describes her preferred tactic to “strenuously object.” The irony of Anderson’s character is that despite her 6-6 loss streak in court, she is ultimately responsible for determining the show’s verdict.

I am reminded of the Type-A personality ‘get-it-done’ and ‘always moving’ when I see Lt. Cmdr. Galloway. She tries to prove herself over and over again, taking the initiative and being a self-starter in her approach to work. Work consumes her so much we never know anything about her personal life as Lt. Kaffee remarks after a court date to take the night off and tells her to “do whatever you do.”

By the end of the show, I almost wish Lt. Cmdr. Galloway and Lt. Kaffee kissed and fell in love because you could see how they gradually bonded over the show, much like how many relationships in real life work out.

Capt. Markinson (Phillips) did not impress me very much while he was in the service. The man was soft-spoken, struggling to enunciate his dialogue and I found myself straining to follow along. Perhaps it was in contrast to his stage counterparts, but Phillips felt lacking in stage presence.

He played a key role behind the scenes and where I felt Phillips shined the most was his small scene incognito to collect important documents at Andrews Base. Wearing thick-rimmed glasses, he pulled a gun on an enlisted soldier in a noir-esque scene piquing my interest. Much like Clark’s style, I felt Phillips was suited towards character acting and I would have liked to see his personality in this direction.

Capt. Issac Whitaker (Russell) played a relatively small role in charge of the military lawyers. I found him to be a reasonable man who carried an aura of authority and fairness, resonating my perception on how I thought a leader should be. His surprised expression on Lt. Cmdr. Galloway’s interest in criminal case and open-minded acceptance of her presence was welcoming to me.

Pfc. Santiago (Riehle) is another small part, but no doubt the reason this entire show existed in the first place. The few flashback scenes we see him in are filled with empathy and worry including his letters to the senate on mistreatment & the brutal code red he goes through.

I liked Riehle’s small role because he made the most of what little stage time he had, taking each action very seriously. He demonstrated the simple mantra: There are no small roles, only small actors.

Lt. Col Jessup (Booker) is notoriously the villain in this show and arguably the most powerful presence on stage. I found his performance in Act 1 to be a presentation spectacle, but by Act 2 Booker embraced the character instead of the performance, making him so much more enjoyable to watch.

The man has an ego, reflecting masochism at its core with lewd remarks at Lt. Cmdr. Galloway and demoralizing barks at Capt. Whitaker. Despite such raw masculinity, Booker adheres to singular principles to serve the greater good of his unit as he perceives it.

Unity. Core. God. Country.

Despite such noble intentions, Lt. Col. Jessup’s pride was his downfall. He put on such a show distracting the audience from the cover-ups with sayings like ‘live matter’. Yet those intimate moments we catch with Cmdr. Stone where Lt. Col. Jessup coerces him to conclude Pfc. Santiago’s death was a result of poison—just goes to show how people in power need checks and balances.

Interestingly enough is how Booker decided to portray his ‘you can’t understand the truth’ speech in the courtroom. I like how he is so convinced by his own creed after being in Cuba for so long, he can’t even see the trap he is falling into until it is too late!

Lt. Kendrick (LeDay) said one line that summed his character up pretty well. “I have two books at my bedside. Lieutenant: The Marine Corps Code of Conduct and the King James Bible.”

LeDay is the godliest of men in the cast, often calling out HIS name throughout his lines. He is also the most loyal of men to his Colonel. Like Cpl. Downey, he plays a very stoic role and projects his voice loud and clear.

Lt. Ross (Massey) is one of my favorites simply because he has this big dopey smile on his face almost the entire show. Massey has beautiful facial expressions and moves with gusto and energy throughout the show. His pairing with Lt. Kaffee makes for entertaining headbutts and I’m not surprised the two play softball together.

Cpl. Howard (Blocker) played another small role but much like Riehle he made the most of his stage time. Blocker was funny and cute to watch with his relaxed personality throughout the show.

Which begs the question: why was this behavior acceptable for a marine? In contrast to his cohorts, you would expect Cpl. Howard’s carefree attitude to be disciplined in accordance with the marine code of conduct. I find cognitive dissonance in this character approach.

Capt. Garland (Garland) made for a great judge with his commanding presence. He managed his courtroom with authority and it shined best when he demanded the Col. Jessup address him as Judge.

Cmdr. Stone (Thompson) acted as a great doctor. I was impressed with how he handled such descriptive dialogue with the medical terminology during his witness testimony in court. Thompson was an expert of his craft and articulated himself perfectly. He never faltered behind the information he presented, falling in line with his loyalty to Col. Jessup.

The set was brilliantly designed with three levels from top to bottom. Upstage a static display of the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba resided—a simple chain link fence spanning across. The middle tier housed the courtroom with the Judge stand front and center. And finally on the bottom level all other scenes lived with plenty of space to move props and furniture.

Painted front and center is the seal of the U.S. Marine Core expertly lighted in white. I must say, lighting designer Kyle Harris killed it with the sunset / sunrise on the backdrop, creating beautiful hues of orange, red and purple that dissolved into blue.

Accompanying the show were limited sound effects including drums, plane landings and gunshots. But perhaps the most noticeable is the military cadence calls during transitions. These jodies were songs where one person would sing the line and everyone else would repeat them.

The costume designs were amazing! I love the accuracy and attention to detail costume designer Janice Pennington put into her historical research. The BDUs looked great along with dress uniforms, equipped with correct ranks and ribbons to boot. Considering how many evolutions of the military uniform have occurred, I think the version of 1986 was spot on.

While I loved the show from a macro point of view, I found many issues preventing it from being an even better version of itself. Much of the failure of “A Few Good Men” lies in its poor choice of blocking.

Characters stood in straight lines downstage, lacking the depth in staging fundamentals. Despite having chairs to sit in, often all the characters would stand up not utilizing the amount of free space given stage dynamics.

Inconsistencies with lines often threw me for a loop like when the court bailiff calls the room to attention before the Judge enters. He once called people to attention when the judge was already seated on stage. Talk about awkward!

Perhaps the biggest fault here is characters failing to engage with their conversational partners. One too many times someone would be talking on stage and their partner would be looking out at the audience, making it seems to us that they weren’t even listening!

This was very concerning and while I could agree in certain areas, like when the military people were standing at attention (or at ease, which by the way, does give you permission to move your upper torso to face the person you are speaking to), many interactions failed to make scenes believable.

There was even a scene which Lt. Weinberg was cleaning / checking his nails while sitting in a chair in Cuba, completely distracting my focus from the conversation between Lt. Kaffee and Lt. Col. Jessup.

My final complaint is the lack of silence and pauses in between lines that happened. This was especially apparent in the first act where Lt. Col. Jessup has thoughtful moments during his discussion with Capt. Whitaker and Lt. Kendrick. I would have liked to see the cogwheels turning before he just jumped into his next line.

I want to see believability in a production whenever I set aside time in my day to come. I want to be caught in the moment and let the characters take me for a journey, outside the confines of my daily life situation. Theatre is about transporting you to a different world, and overall I think “A Few Good Men” does this very well.

Theatre Arlington delivers a wonderful show I enjoyed watching from the beginning to the very end. Both onstage and backstage players put together a thought-provoking show with each moment guiding us towards the truth of our two military men. Were they found guilty or not guilty?

You’ll just have to come see for yourself.

A Few Good Men
March 29 through April 14, 2019
Theatre Arlington
305 W. Main St.
Arlington, TX, 76010
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