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A Few Good Men

Aaron Sorkin's military courtroom drama at Lakewood Playhouse

Ensemble cast and Judge Randolph (Jenifer Rifenbery) looks on as Lt. Kaffee (Jacob Tice) questions Lt. Col. Jessep (James Gilletti). Photo credit: Kate Paterno-Lick

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Lakewood Playhouse kicks off its 77th season with Aaron Sorkin's breathtaking courtroom drama A Few Good Men. As with most of Sorkin's creations, such as the television dramas, The West Wing and The Newsroom, this play is rife with high ideals, compelling clashes of culture and beliefs, larger-than-life but flawed protagonists, and rapid-fire dialogue.

Two young marines, Lance Cpl. Dawson (Aaron Mohs-Hale) and Pfc. Downey (K.E. Jenkins) have confessed to the murder of a fellow marine stationed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Pvt. William Santiago (voiceover by Jacob Henthorn).  Their Navy lawyer appointed to the case, Lt. Kaffee (Jacob Tice), believes the marine's death was accidental and caused by an illegal rough disciplinary action called a Code Red, ordered by their commander, Lt. Col. Jessep (James Gilletti).

Kaffee's defense team is rounded out with his good buddy, Lt. Sam Weinberg (Jim Rogers) and Lt. Cmdr. Galloway (Cassie Jo Fastabend). It is Galloway who first suspects the men were ordered to haze Santiago, and that the top brass are covering up.

The chemistry between the three lawyers on the defense team simultaneously provides comic relief and some interesting twists and turns. Kaffee pretends to be lackadaisical and uncaring, and Galloway, who is driven and aggressive, only gradually comes to appreciate what a skilled and committed lawyer he is; while Weinberg, who at first seems to be Kaffee's yes-man, turns out to be an impassioned and equally skilled lawyer. It is interesting that both Galloway and Weinberg outrank Kaffee, but treat him with the deference due to his position as the lead lawyer (although gradually and begrudgingly so with Galloway).

Tice, Fastabend and Rogers are outstanding in these roles. Galloway, like many in the cast, portrays the stiff military posture and demeanor in a convincing manner, just as Tice is believable as the smart-alecky Kaffee. Tice also transitions smoothly into the much more serious lawyer, convincingly letting his true self come out. I've enjoyed watching Tice in The Rainmaker, Arsenic and Old Lace and other plays, but I have never seen him so thoroughly become the character he was playing. Rogers also inhabits his role naturally and becomes increasingly better as the play unfolds.

I have to admit that I had problems with Gilletti in the role of Lt. Col. Jessep, especially in his first few scenes - admittedly because no matter how hard I tried, I could not help comparing him to Jack Nicholson in the same role in the movie, an unfair but inevitable comparison. But in the courtroom scene in the second act he becomes magnificently intense depicting a proud and noble man completely losing his composure if not his mind.

Jenkins and Mohs-Hale are so real as the accused murderers that it is painful watching them. These two young and idealistic men, who just want to serve their country and follow the orders of their superiors, are caught up in something they can't comprehend. Their acting is superb.

In smaller but pivotal roles, Christian Carvajal and Jenifer Rifenbery are spot-on as the conflicted Capt. Markinson (Carvajal) and Judge Randolph (Rifenbery).

It seems serendipitous that the play opened Sept. 11 and that Director Beau M.K. Prichard moved the setting up to 2008, the year then Presidential candidate Barack Obama declared he was going to close the base at Guantanamo, which is still open (originally the play was set in 1986). It is a powerful play beautifully directed and acted. Warning: it contains adult language.

A Few Good Men, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 11, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $25, $22 military, $21 seniors and $19 students/educators, pay what you can June 1, 253.588.0042,
www.lakewoodplayhouse.org

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