Doing battle with daily dragons

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Review: A Few Good Men

I don’t usually do reviews. Mostly, because if I’ve been immersed in a good story, I can’t find a whole lot more critical to say other than, “Man, that a good story.” But I thought I’d give it a shot.

A couple of little facts I was surprised to learn from the usually vacuous and rather expensive theatre program: Aaron Sorkin,, although he’s written a play, 2 movies and a television series focusing on law and the government, has absolutely no background in either. The idea for “A Few Good Men” came from his sister, who became a naval lawyer and was sent down to Guantanamo Bay to investigate a “hazing” incident in which a Marine Private almost lost his life. She wrote in a letter to her brother (who was selling Malteasers at a New York theatre at the time) that the soldiers who carried out the hazing swore that they’d been ordered to perform this “Code Red” by a superior officer. And so the play began to take shape.

I have to admit my motivation for going to see this show were pretty much getting to see a theatrical work by Sorkin starring an actor who worked closely with him. Had it been someone else in the lead role, it’s quite possible the production wouldn’t have registered on my radar, so in that respect, I’m guilty of supporting big money theatre. Mea culpa. My sins are multitude and I’m a sad fangirl.

As a quick preface, I was interested to see that theatre audiences are becoming less and less aware that they’re not at the movies. Two women behind me seemed determined to sort out which character was which in the middle of the first act and did so with very little awareness of their surroundings; namely, in the middle of the third row, completely visible and audible from the stage. Two girls beside me also felt the need to titter and giggle incessantly throughout the entire performance as well as laughing at bits of dialogue that were obviously not meant to be funny. I can only be thankful that I didn’t hear the fucking Crazy Frog shouting from the balcony at any point during the evening. Do we have such short attention spans that we can’t sit down and shut holes for 2 hours? Is it really so hard to sit still and be entertained?

So, the play. It was.....pretty much exactly word- for- word like the film. This isn’t easy for actors, I can imagine, to perform a piece that just about everyone who was watching films in the early 90’s is familiar with and might, if you’re unlucky, pull a Rock Horror Picture Show and recite the most famous lines along with you. How do you bring newness to a well known work?

The answer is…you don’t so much.

Rob Lowe did alright as Daniel Kaffee, (the Tom Cruise role) although, among a few other things, I felt he was slightly too old for the part. Kaffee’s flippant dialogue and attitude towards his job made sense in a younger, untested man who’s going on the kind of journey Kaffee is on, (Cruise was 29 when he did the film although he looked younger.) whereas in an older one, it comes across as arrogant laziness, which I don’t think is at the heart of the character. Lowe will be 40 this year, and in the age stakes, he’s supposed to have just graduated from law school and be biding his time in the Navy until he can get a “real job.”

Lowe is not a full body actor, nor is he a natural on the stage. Obviously used to “close up” moments, there were times his voice dropped so low that I’m sure that even people 5 or 6 rows back would have struggled to hear. (We were in the second row.) His arms, for the most part, stayed stapled to his sides. The animation of his co-stars made him look all the more static. Lowe’s strength lay in the dryness of the script’s wit, which he excelled in delivering. The character he created was a slightly more arrogant version of Sam Seaborne from The West Wing, which, while not original, worked okay.

My biggest disappointments were in the actors playing Cnl. Jessop (The Jack Nicholson role) and Joanne Galloway. (The Demi Moore role) From the moment the guy playing Jessop opened his mouth, it was clear we were in for a Jack Nicholson impression, which made me cringe. The guy had a difficult task, I’ll admit, trying to get past the most iconic role of the film, but a direct re-hashing was definitely not the answer. Thankfully, once the dénouement approached, he seemed to find his own way a little bit more. The woman playing Galloway was undeniably the weak link. A dyed in the wool soap actress, (Suranne Jones from Coronation Street) she spent the entire production so worried about her accent that little to nothing she said could be easily understood. Not only that, but she played an ENTIRELY contradicting role; her actions; brave, bold and slightly misguided. Her demeanour: a small rabbit beset by foxes looking as though she could, at any moment, burst into tears.

The actual staging was hugely polished with giant sections of chain-link fence and one way screens effectively separating the action in Cuba, the court room and other venues. It was minimal, versatile and made effective use of the relatively small stage. (Let’s face it, the whole theatre is pretty small, having been built in 1720 or so. The light booth is in the upper Stage right box.) Scene changes were covered nicely by Marines doing Marine type activities like dropping in from a “helicopter” or doing a rather impressive bit of rope strength training in the background.

All in all, a good show. I have to admit to not being particularly stirred by it, but it’s hard to say whether or not that comes from 10 or so viewings of the film since 1992. There were no surprises for me; I knew what was coming next. I must admit that my biggest thrill was being 2 feet away from a guy who worked closely with Alison Janney, who almost pips Judy Dench to the post as my utter and total performance heroine ever. Again, mea culpa. For someone who’s NOT familiar with the story, I recommend it. See it with my blessings.