LEGAL BATTLE White, Boghigian, and Wolfskehl.
Wow. A Few Good Men may take place in a courtroom rather than on a battlefield, but you wouldn't know that from the psychological carnage explosively inflicted. This 2nd Story Theatre production, performed in the dignified setting of the historic Bristol Statehouse (through June 24), conveys the severity of military service as intensely as if bullets were whizzing above our heads.
With appropriate collaboration, numerous talents converge to accomplish the theatrical mission. Guest director Bryna Wortman has skillfully guided a large, well-assigned, and impeccably talented cast through Aaron Sorkin's swift-action script. The costume design by Marilyn Salvatore is equally precise, the uniforms accurate in every sleeve stripe and medal.
At first the situation seems clear. At the US Guantánamo Bay military station in Cuba, a young Marine PFC has been killed by two other men in his squad. Since they both confess to the crime, what follows should be swift and uncomplicated. Not so fast, says Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway (Christina Wolfskehl), a Navy lawyer who requests being assigned to the case. After all, they pled guilty to murder, without counsel, at a 19-minute hearing.
The primary lawyer defending the two, Lt. J.G. Daniel A. Kaffee (Tim White), seems more interested in playing softball than in looking into the case. The Harvard-trained hotshot isn't impressed by the guilt trip Galloway is trying to lay on him and certainly doesn't want her help, considering that she has lost the few cases she has been assigned. A third defense lawyer involved is Lt. J.G. Sam Weinberg (Alex Duckworth), a quietly wisecracking sidekick.
The accused are Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson (Miles Boucher) and his dimwitted friend, Pfc. Louden Downey (Jona Cedeno). They admit that they bound the soldier, stuffed a rag in his mouth to gag him, and then began to shave his head. (The main weakness in the play is that they would be charged with murder — that is, intending to kill him. Why would anyone shave the head of someone they were killing, never mind calling for an ambulance when he seems to be dying, and never mind again sticking around for it to show up?)
The victim was an embarrassment to his squad, unkempt, always lagging on marches, but offending mostly because he kept making requests to his senator that he be reassigned, ignoring the chain of command. As a bonus, he offered to reveal to the senator who it was that fired over the fence line to the Cuban side, prompting a recent diplomatic kerfuffle. To whip their fellow Marines into shape, the squad would conduct what they call a Code Red, a "disciplinary engagement" that could consist of any hazing-like punishment.
Despite Galloway's misgivings, Kaffee isn't incompetent as a lawyer. He knows that keeping the case low-profile will minimize the sentence. After he is convinced to go to trial, the prosecutor, Lt. Jack Ross (Ara Boghigian), plays hardball in emphasizing this point, saying that the accused would get as little as six months if they plead but seven years if they insist on a trial, with all its negative publicity.