Where is the line between obeying orders and following one’s conscience?
Should loyalty to “unit, corps, God, country” trump morality?
These are the underlying themes of Aaron Sorkin’s 1989 courtroom drama A Few Good Men. (The spark for the play — the attempt to cover up the death of an enlisted man resulting from illegal hazing delivered on orders from a superior — is apparently based on a case that Sorkin’s lawyer sister encountered in the JAG Corps.)
Interesting as this script is, it stops short of condemning blindly following orders, despite passing references to the Nuremberg defence of “just following orders” and the My Lai massacre.
The density of the script also makes it a major challenge, particularly for any actors who have difficulty in establishing total comfort with lines and characterization. And this is the case for some of the cast of the Kanata Theatre production, which opened May 10.
To be believable, military personnel must be presented with crispness and conviction. There is little room for sponginess or uncertainty. A character such as the judge (Lucille Lacelle), for example, must exude confidence, dignity and authority to have believable control of the courtroom.
Director Shelagh Mills attempts to deliver the required precision through a marching/chanting group of marines — a device that works well once, twice, even three times, but is repeated too often to maintain its punchiness.
Two actors give standout performances. Derek Barr is totally convincing as the macho colonel — certain that his actions are justified for the greater good of loyalty to unit, corps, God and country.
Aaron Lajeunesse delivers a strong performance as one of the two accused, making it very clear that he sees no life or honour beyond the marine corps, regardless of the outcome of his court martial. As the second man on trial, Geoff Williams is also quite effective.
The defence team of Daniel Kaffee (Conrad McCallum), Joanne Galloway (Tania Carrière) and Sam Weinberg (Paul Behncke) are set up to represent different ways of dealing with the case: plea bargain when possible (Kaffee), fight for right (Galloway) and the discomfort that comes with regarding the clients as wrong for not refusing to engage in illegal activity, regardless of orders (Weinberg). In the last instance, it is a pity that Behncke has apparently been directed to deliver one of the most important speeches in the play as a throwaway.
Despite the apparent understanding of their positions, there is too little tension among the three. On opening night, at least, McCallum was not assured enough of all his (many) lines to devote his entire attention to characterization, and there is little chemistry evident between him and the aggressive character played by Carrière.
Altogether this uneven but worthy production of A Few Good Men deserves a “Code Blue” for effort. A Few Good Men continues at Kanata Theatre to May 21.
Note for the program compiler: I trust that the unwelcome omission of a traditional cast list was a once-only matter.
Few Good Men
By Aaron Sorkin
Director: Shelagh Mills
Set: Dorothy Shaw
Lighting: Karl Wagner
Sound: Robert Fairbairn
Costumes: Barbara Beamish
Lt. Colonel Nathan Jessup Derek Barr
Sam Weinberg Paul Behncke
Pfc. William Santiago Mark Bujaki
Lt. Commander Joanne Galloway Tania Carrière
Lt. Jonathan Kendrick Bernie Horton
Judge Julia Randolph Lucille Lacelle
Lance Corporal Harold Dawson Aaron Lajeunesse
Lt. j.g. Daniel Kaffee Conrad McCallum
Captain Kathryn Whitaker Tracey Nash
Dr. Walter Stone Bruce Rayfuse
Corporal Jeffrey Howard Murray Reeves
Lt. Jack Ross Gordon Walls
Pfc. Louden Downey Geoff Williams
Captain Matthew Markinson Greg Winklemaier
Washington lawyer Howard Kaplan
Marines etc: Kendrick Abell; Sean Behncke; Joe Calugay; Ron Dearing; Greg Mills; Stephen Mills; Rick Schie; Steven Truelove