At this point in my show seeing career, I am starting to see enough different levels of theatre to really garner an appreciation for certain theatrical choices made by the cast and crew. I can tell the difference between a strong/weak script from a strong/weak performance. This being said, this past Saturday I went into Playhouse Merced’s production of A Few Good Men without more expectations other than seeing some recognizable names bring to life some of the iconic characters and lines from the beloved movie. When you have a life-long appreciation for the movie already; it is hard to separate community theatre performers from the likes of Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Bacon and Demi Moore. However, after seeing this show I have easily placed it in the top 10 listing of shows I have ever seen. A Few Good Men is the right amount of drama and comedy to keep you enthralled from opening line to final bow.
A Few Good Men is the military drama following the legal battle between two marines who are charged with murdering a fellow marine. We find our slick lawyer, Lt. Kaffee, his partner Lt. Sam Weinberg, and Lt. Galloway who is added on to the case in defense of the two accused. Through court trials and field trips to interview key witnesses, we are introduced to the pompous, arrogant Lt. Col. Nathan Jessup. The famous saying, “You Can’t Handle The Truth!,” stems from this Aaron Sorkin script, as well many other one-liners made famous from the film. Director Bill Cook brings a very militant staging to this piece that works well for the entire 3-hour show.
Joe Hypes (Lt. Kaffee) and Jim Kocher (Lt. Col. Jessup) are beyond standouts in this production. They create their own characterizations, while sticking true to the script and each moment. Kocher and Hypes resist copying their film counterparts that so many of the audience members, myself included, are tempted to base their performance off of. Hypes hits comedic timing with dramatic instinct giving the stage version of Kaffee a slick pace with a likeable side. Kocher plays well opposite his cast with eloquence of decisive instinct that makes the militaristic villain a drama-oozing, insult-spuing favorite.
(Joe Hypes (Kaffee), Laura Hopp (Galloway); Photo Credit: Tom Frazier)
Laura Hopp (Lt. Cmdr. Galloway) performs the role different but well. She is a more relaxed Galloway in comparison to the unemotional showing of Demi Moore’s interpretation. Hopp makes the script work for her and finds some great moments to get a laugh or sympathy when appropriate. Chad Phillips (Lt. Weinberg) and Kurt VanderWeide (Capt. Markinson) are supporting standouts. Phillips is a lovable Weinberg without losing his place amongst the leading heavy hitters. VanderWeide delivers a remarkable performance that is sure to make any audience member eager to give him his well earned applause. VanderWeide delivers his suicide monologue with great strength and power. I was extremely moved by his performance of the troubled captain.
(Kurt VanderWeide (Markinson); Photo Credit: Tom Frazier)
Rounding up the talented principals are sound performances by Valiant Reyes (Lance Cpl. Dawson) and Jason Best (PFC Downey); the two marines charged with the murder. These two had such a great opposites attract camaraderie displayed beautifully throughout the evening. Reyes showed his acting chops well, while Best made his mousy character a memorable figure in the court scenes.
(Valiant Reyes (Dawson), Jason Best (Downey); Photo Credit: Tom Frazier)
All in all, Cook and company have staged a production to be proud of. I could not help but leap out of my seat for applause once the final exit was made from a satisfied Kaffee having won a mighty battle in his first courtroom appearance. A Few Good Men only plays through October 7 (psst, that this coming Sunday) so call up the Playhouse and get your tickets on the double. Go see this show!