Declared a mistrial
Riverfront Theatre’s courtroom drama suffers from botched lines and missed cues
While watching Riverfront Theatre’s latest production, Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men, the thought that kept recurring in my mind was that the proceedings had so much potential but ultimately kept falling short of the mark. Missed cues, fumbled lines and hiccups in pacing diminished the comic and dramatic momentum needed to keep the audience’s attention during the nearly three-hour performance.
If you haven’t seen the movie of the same name—which features the now infamous Jack Nicholson declaration of “You can’t handle the truth!"—A Few Good Men is based on actual events that took place in the ‘80s. As the story goes, Marines stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, live a rigid, demanding life based on four priorities: unit, corps, God, country, in that order.
When a Marine falls short of expectations, as did Pfc. William Santiago (played by Zachary Rees), it is the duty of his fellow Marines to take disciplinary action in the form of a Code Red. In Santiago’s case, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (T-Ray) and Pfc. Louden Downey (Edward Barrington) bound his hands and feet, gagged him with a rag and began shaving his head, in the process accidentally triggering acidosis in Santiago’s lungs, killing him.
It’s now up to Navy lawyer Daniel Kaffee (John Rutski) to defend the two Marines against murder charges, when their only intent was to shave Santiago’s head. This task proves challenging on many levels: One, the men have such a rigid sense of honor and justice that they refuse to agree to a plea bargain; and two, the officers at Guantanamo Bay who ordered the Code Red, led by Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep (Peter L. Coates), are covering their tracks and allowing Dawson and Downey to take the fall.
As the wisecracking, morally ambivalent Kaffee, Rutski is a great choice. He has the talent to carry the focus of the show, a boy-next-door quality that complements his character and a voice that sounds eerily like Tom Cruise, who played this role in the film. Bob Barsanti and Catherine Hearn, as members of Kaffee’s defense team, also played their roles well, and Coates channeled the spirit of Nicholson’s Jessep without resorting to a full-blown impersonation. Frankly, I’d watch the show again just to see William Davison Jr. play Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick, the most hardcore, God-fearing bad-ass of all the Marines. Davison has the advantage of actually having once been a Marine, and his invaluable input into this play is evident from start to finish.
However, in the interactions among these characters, and even more so in the interaction among supporting characters, it was quite obvious that they hadn’t had enough time to rehearse—a fact that was confirmed later by director Karen Chandler. Many lines were stumbled over and some seemed to be forgotten altogether, although cast members did an admirable job covering their mistakes and moving forward. The awkward pauses caused by missed cues hindered the otherwise speedy pacing, but then many lines that would have been funnier were weakened by rushing and poor projection.
I’m confident that Chandler and her cast will be able to fix these flaws with a few more performances under their belt, because as it stands it was an entertaining, if somewhat erratic, show.