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A Few Good Men’ clashes with contemporary issues

Marty Schroeder | Friday, March 24, 2006

Guantánamo Bay, Cuba has become one of the most controversial topics of modern times. It is the only American military installation on the soil of a Communist country and has come to represent certain aspects of the “war on terror” that some find absolutely necessary and others absolutely reprehensible.

This naval base is at the focus of “A Few Good Men,” a play written by Aaron Sorkin and presented by the St. Edward’s Hall Players. Performed in Washington Hall and directed by Patrick Vassel, the production takes on a unique perspective due to the events surrounding the current U.S. foreign policy.

The play centers around two Marines, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson and Private First Class (PFC) Louden Downey, who are stationed at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base. The pair are charged with the murder of PFC William Santiago and brought to Washington, D.C. for trial. The lawyers assigned to the case are Lieutenants Daniel Kaffee and Sam Weinberg and Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway. They begin an investigation that starts with the Private First Class on trial and rises up the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Jessep, the commanding officer of Guantánamo Bay.

One of the issues in performing this play is that it will inevitably draw comparisons to the well-known 1992 film directed by Rob Reiner. This particular production was based on the stage play, written by Sorkin before he penned the screenplay. However, the performance was able to stand on its own and brought its own flavor and unique characteristics, separating it from the film.

Drew McElligott put on an excellent performance as the deadly serious Jessep. In a role that garnered Jack Nicholson an Oscar nomination for the film, McElligott brought his own style and feel to the character, one that is much more than a rehash of Nicholson’s performance.

Equally intimidating is the role of Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick, played by Jeff Eyerman. Eyerman effectively brings out the religious fervor and devotion to the Marines of this character. Matt Goodrich was also very good as Kaffee and Kathleen Ryan and Brandon McGirr provide notable supporting roles as Galloway and Weinberg, respectively. Overall, the cast manifests their characters memorably.

The most noteworthy aspect of this particular production is the method of scene transition. In much the same way a film will have dialogue from a scene before a cut to that scene occurs, this performance ends some scenes as others are beginning. Lighting is used to notify a scene change and this provides connections to scenes that may not otherwise be considered connected as such.

Also, the setting will change based on lighting and props used. A table that is in Kaffee’s apartment will quickly become a table in the courtroom as the props used by the characters will change, the lighting will be altered, and characters will take positions that notifies the audience that the action is now in the courtroom. It is a highly effective method that provides connections not only on the artistic level, but showcases a very practical use of the space.

This play takes on a different tone due to recent events. The prisoner scandals associated with Guantánamo Bay come to mind while watching this performance.

In a memorable line, Jessep states, “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”

This bold statement sums up the question that arises from the current situation at the Naval Base – do audiences assume that the government is protecting our interests and should be able to do whatever they need to make us safe, or should we know what goes on even if it means that we may be less secure? The answer to this question is not an easy one.

“A Few Good Men” is not an anti-military play nor is it pro-military. It is a play that raises very important questions about the nature of the law and what is permissible to provide national security. Vassel directs a very effective version of this play that showcases some of the best talent that Notre Dame has to offer in student-theater.

While the film is very good, this play provides a new medium for which to enjoy this story and does a noteworthy job providing quality theater at Notre Dame.