A Few Great Actors and “A Few Good Men”

Here is a suggestion for readers who have the good fortune to attend one of this month’s remaining performances of the Crighton Theatre’s masterful production of Aaron Sorkin’s, “A Few Good Men.” Just imagine you are in a theater on Broadway. I’ll venture a guess that nothing running on “The Great White Way” would offer you a more stunning evening of theater. This production, skillfully directed by Travis Bryant (in an amazing directorial debut at this theater), is without a doubt one of the most riveting pieces of theatre I have seen at the Crighton, or anywhere else for that matter. A large share of the credit for this success must go to a superb cast of actors that ignite theatrical fireworks in scene after scene.

Many will recall the success of the popular 1992 film version starring Jack Nicolson, Tom Cruise, and Demi Moore, which went on to be voted “Favorite Motion Picture” at the 1993 “People’s Choice Awards.” The plot revolves around the court martial trial of two Guantanamo-based marines, (Vincent Merritt as Pfc. Louden Downey, and Chris Mayo as Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson), who stand accused of murdering one of their comrades, Pfc. William Santiago (Nick Hunlock in several gripping flash-back scenes). Enter the marine’s defenders, novice Navy lawyer, the care-free Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Thomas White), and his assistant, Lt. Sam Weinberg (Robert Faber). Add to that mix, young Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway (Kimberly Bryant), who is requested by Downey’s family to be assigned as the young marine’s lawyer. Competitive sparks begin to fly between these relatively inexperienced lawyers as they try to decide whether to plea bargain or take the case to trial. Of course the latter option prevails, and therein we have our story.

As Mr. Bryant briefly took the stage to introduce the piece, it was clear from his fine voice and commanding stage presence that this new Crighton director was an experienced actor as well. It would soon be evident that he was also adept at transferring those skills to his talented cast. There would be no microphones in evidence as this cast established a commanding stage presence of its own. And while I had opted for an aisle seat near the rear of the theater, every word of dialogue could be clearly heard from the stage. Speaking of the stage, the simple scenic design depicting the courtroom setting , (also from Mr. Bryant), was both dramatic and marvelously effective displaying two beautiful hanging American flags with a huge Marine Corps emblem between them. Costumer, Sue McClelland Hayes, had every member of the cast meticulously dressed in crisp uniforms appropriate to rank. Meanwhile, sound designer, Jim Tatum, helped escalate the tension with pounding military drumbeats and an over flying jet plane that sounded like it was in the theater.

Much of the intense dramatic power of this production flows from the fine performances of Don Hampton (as Capt. Matthew Markinson), Stephen Murphree (as Lt. Jonathan Kendrick), and, perhaps above all, Jeffrey Baldwin as Lt. Col. Nathan Jessup. If Baldwin had been competing with Jack Nicholson for the Hollywood role, I think it might have been a toss-up. Mr. Baldwin’s final explosive scene in the courtroom had a frightening realism that was spellbinding. But let’s be clear, this is every inch an ensemble piece with all of the actors bringing equal shares to the show’s success. Hampton and Murphree beautifully convey the tension and conflicts experienced by officers Markinson and Kendrick as they attempt to sort out the clash between the written code of military justice, and the unwritten disciplinary “code reds” in Marine Corps tradition. Meanwhile, the legal team does a fantastic job with Miss Bryant’s Galloway adding just the right touches of feminine intuition and intellect, while Mr. White’s portrayal of Kaffee’s ever-growing confidence that they can win this case culminates in his mind-blowing courtroom confrontation with Jessup.

The large cast includes countless other fine performances including John Adair (as Capt. Whitaker), Victor San Miguel (as determined prosecutor, Lt. Jack Ross), Brandon Perkins (as Cpl. Howard), Wesley Bush (as Capt. Randolph), and Baron Dan Jackson (as Cmdr. Walter Stone). The bottom line? This is must-see-theatre of exceptional quality. Don’t miss it!

A Few Good Men continues through April 19th with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and a 2 pm matinee on Sunday April 13th. Tickets are $17 for adults, $10 for ages 18 and under. For reservations and information, call the Crighton box office at 936-441-7469.

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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