An edge-of-your-seat suspense-filled script, a mystery it would take a Sherlock Holmes to solve, courtroom sequences that would do Perry Mason proud, razor-sharp direction by Tony Pauletto, a topnotch production design, and crackerjack performances by a cast of twenty-four, most particularly by KC Clyde in the role that scored a pair of Toms (Hulce and Cruise) respective Tony and Golden Globe nominations, all of the above add up to a NoHo Arts Center guest production of Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men that rivals work being done by L.A.’s finest intimate theater companies.
Clyde stars as 30something Navy Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, a lawyer who’d be first on your list if you wanted to settle out of court, but probably the last you’d want defending you if, God forbid, you were innocent, just one reason why pert young Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway (Sarmarie Klein) resents being passed over for Daniel in defending two Guantanamo-based Marines accused of murdering one of their fellow jarheads.
Yes, Pfc. William T. Santiago (Diego Abelardo) is indeed dead and buried, but his alleged killers Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson (Travis Quentin) and Pfc. Louden Downey (Zack Roosa) insist Santiago’s demise was the accidental result of a superior officer-ordered hazing, what the Marines at Gitmo call a “code red,” one designed to teach Santiago never again to attempt to coerce a transfer off the island, no matter how hellish life there may be.
It takes a good long while for Lt. Kaffee to be convinced to actually give the courtroom a whirl, and much of A Few Good Men’s appeal is in seeing the settlement whiz’s coming of age as both criminal defense lawyer and man, but once our hero realizes that Dawson and Downey may indeed have a case (and a legitimate reason not to sacrifice their honor for the brief six months in jail offered by the prosecution if they just put up and shut up), Daniel, his sidekick Lt. J.G.Sam Weinberg (Michael Lawson), and Joanne gear up for what is sure to be the fight of their legal lives.
Oscar/Emmy/Golden Globe winner Sorkin cues us in fairly early on to a few of the secrets our intrepid defense team will only eventually unearth—most significantly that base commander Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep (Dennis LaValle) had, over the strenuous objections of second-in-command Capt. Matthew A. Markinson (Steve B. Green), refused Santiago’s request for a transfer (one he now claims to have approved), then instructed Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick (Alexander Harris) to order Dawson and Downey to code-red Santiago, all the while making it appear to the rest of the squadron that exactly the opposite was being ordered.
If all this sounds more than a tad confusing, rest assured that it’s not, thanks both to Sorkin’s meticulously constructed script and to direction by Pauletto that makes sure we are following A Few Good Men’s multiple plot twists every step of the way.
With a cast of twenty-four, one that also includes Seth Ginsberg (Cpl. Jeffrey Owen Howard), Philip Maurice Hayes (Cmdr. Walter Stone), Bob Telford (Capt. Julius Alexander Randolph), Jeremy C. Torgerson (Lt. Jack Ross), and Dan White (Capt. Isaac Whitaker) in important featured roles along with Jake Davidson, Nora Foley, Roger Giltner, Jr., Reed Imhoff, Johnny Kios, Derrick Quals, Andrew Roach, Muneesh Sharma, and Jonny Walker in assorted cameos, a simple “Bravo!” must suffice for most.
Still, I would be remiss not to offer some individual raves, most particularly for Clyde’s commanding star turn as Daniel, a character the busy film/TV actor takes from snarky pragmatist to impassioned warrior quite memorably indeed.
Secret weapon Klein’s “cartoon squirrel” voice (Sorkin’s words, not mine) fools us into thinking she’s not a force to be reckoned with. (She is.) LaValle’s Jessup gives the movie’s Jack Nicholson a run for his millions (and finds his own way to shout out the classic “You can’t handle the truth!”). Lawson’s geeky Sam, Torgerson’s dynamic Ross, and Quentin and Roosa’s pitch-perfect pair of falsely accused Marines are four more (though hardly the only) cast members who deserve special mention.
Scenic designer Lacey Anzelc’s set not only follows Sorkin’s instructions to the letter (tables and chairs moved into assorted configurations on a plain black stage) but makes inventive use of the NoHo Arts Center’s double-decker configuration. Luke Moyer makes Anzelc’s set look even better with an accomplished lighting design that cues us in immediately to exactly where we are thanks to some nifty effects. Brandon Hardesty’s terrific sound design punctuates the action with marching cadences and marine chants during scene changes, only a few of which drag on too long.
The cast’s Marine and Navy uniforms appear to this layman’s eye to be as authentic as they get. (Military consultant Eric Snow has clearly done his duty, and patent leather shoes have been polished to “I can see myself” perfection.)
Stanley Brown and Frank Tran are understudies. Angel Hernandez is production stage manager. Additional program credits go to Craig Deininger (set construction) and Michael Baldwin (sound technician). A Few Good Men is produced by Lavalle, Pauletto, Clyde, and Klein.
Given its guest production status and a cast whose work I was mostly unfamiliar with, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from A Few Good Men at the NoHo Arts Center. To say that it exceeded my expectations is putting it mildly. It is one of the summer’s finest intimate productions.
NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
July 1, 2106
Photos: Andreas Lyon