MAC’s ‘A Few Good Men’ gets hardy thumbs up

By Ben Nyberg

The Manhattan Arts Center Theatre’s production of Aaron Sorkin’s 1989 court-martial drama, A Few Good Men, opened a two-week run in the Center’s Grosh Performance Hall this past Friday. As the course of the run includes this year’s Veterans Day, an extra presentation of the play will be offered tonight.

Anyone familiar with Sorkin’s writing (The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, or maybe just his own film adaptation of A Few Good Men) knows that he’s a master of rapid-fire dialog and quick scene changes. In other words, he mostly keeps things moving at a high-velocity clip.

MAC’s mounting of his very busy script certainly respects its demand for up-tempo delivery. Director Brent Sigman and every member of his energetic ensemble clearly get the need for speed, and their drive pays off so well that it’s only when, right in the home stretch, Sorkin’s own penchant for intrusive embellishment makes a few bad dips in the tension level when all we really want to experience is the big socko scene we know lies ahead.

Except for those few soft slowdowns, the story line is bold, smart and tough throughout. Taken as a whole, the play offers a powerful comment on the nature of justice—and not just military justice—when it is tempered, as it too frequently is, less by mercy than by self-serving bias.

The principal roles are all managed effectively. Devin Wilson succeeds in growing Daniel Kaffee from feckless to fearless during the few days of his life the play depicts. As Kaffee’s cohort Sam Weinburg, Glenn Davis is both a likable persona in his own right and a reliable reflector of his pal Kaffee’s march toward adult seriousness. BeckiJo Neill’s Joanne Galloway illuminates the predicament of a strong and attractive female in a male-dominated environment. Her interactions with Kaffee provide yet another measure of his increasing maturity.

For the climactic moment in the trial to carry its intended knockout punch, of course, a formidable Nathan Jessep is essential, and MAC’s production has one in the fearsome, intimidating presence summoned up by Sean M. Matthews. No question that if he ordered an underling to do something, it would be done. His undeniable authority is ultimately the key to the entire case.

Co-defendants Dawson (Aman Srivastava) and Downey (Zachary Oehm) show us in painful detail the evidence of Jessep’s grip on all the beings of his microcosm. Fear of the choke chain round their necks wars with the sure knowledge of the unfairness of the charges against them to all but rip their guts out.

At the other end of the hierarchy, just as terrified by the view from his different perspective, Capt. Markinson (Kim Riley) finds desperation enough to do wrong to serve the right but having done so no longer has the courage, or the will, to live with his act’s consequences, whereas Jason Roberts’ Jack Ross honestly seeks a way out of trouble within the system and ends up having to face the breakdown of accommodation.

All told, a dark scenario deeply etched by a well-drilled cast, including several deserving but unmentioned others.

Despite the abrasively harsh scene-segue drumrolls (which I’d mute) and the eye-blasting courtroom spotlights (which I’d dim), I give this one a strong thumbs up.

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