While “A Few Good Men” originally was a stage play, it reached most of its fame through the 1992 movie version that starred Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson. For the current production at Keegan Theatre that was the biggest hurdle it faced. How does the show hold up with such a famous and recognizable version readily available. This isn’t just a revival of a famous play that the audience may not have seen in years. Rather, this is movie that is somewhere on the television on a monthly basis and has people imitating Jack Nicholson’s now legendary lines from the movie. At the beginning of the evening, it was a bit jarring to hear lines being delivered by someone other than those famous movie stars. As such, it took me time to warm up to this production. That wasn’t Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson on stage. That isn’t a slight to the performers, just an acknowledgement that there is a preconceived knowledge of who the characters are and what your ear thinks they sound like. The biggest compliment I can give the show is that those preconceived attitudes about the characters melted away as the evening progressed and the show stood on its own by the end of the evening.
It feels a bit redundant to give a synopsis of this play, because it tracks along the movie fairly consistently with only a few minor tweaks here and there. There is the murder of William Santiago by Dawson and Downey at Guantanamo Bay and their attorneys trying to prove that Dawson and Downey were following the orders of their commanders and that there was a cover-up of the events that lead to Santiago’s death? One difference between the stage version and the movie version is that the stage version does not make the same attempt to hide whether there was a “code red”. While the movie doesn’t play out as a full-blown courtroom drama, there was the culminating scene that not only solved the crime, but also was the dramatic showdown between Lieutenant Kaffee and Colonel Jessup. In the stage version, the moments and events that led to Santiago’s death are interspersed throughout the production, which leaves the audience one-step ahead of the attorneys in their investigation and leaves that final confrontation between Kaffee and Jessup as being the only aspect of drama in that confrontation.
Another interesting aspect of seeing this story play out on stage was the creativity of the set and how the actors used it to seemlessly transfer you from Washington, DC to Guantanamo Bay to a courtroom to Kaffee’s home with subtle changes to the interesting, yet largely minimalist set. The set was built on two levels with two on stage sets of stairs providing access to the upper level, as well as a ramp that connected the two levels that spanned across the middle of the stage and also acted as a pole for an oversized American flag that was drapped over the right side of the stage. The only other set pieces were tables and chairs. Yet, with subtle changes you were transfered to these different places in the blink of an eye. Another interesting feature was the change of perspective that was used halfway through the courtroom scene. For the first half of the courtroom scenes the audience is watching the proceedings as if the were sitting on the judges bench. The second half of the courtroom scenes has the audience sitting in the audience of the courtroom. It was a clever move that was creative and unexpected.
Ultimately, where this show succeeded best is that the actors owned the script and characters and the evening wasn’t just an exercise in performing a stage version of the movie.