Monday, 24 September 2012

Sorkin's words come alive in Citadel show

 Bill Rankin
Traditional war dramas often hinge on a volatile blend of romance and heroism. The male protagonist endures the tribulations of grim hostilities abroad; back home his gal frets and makes do while she waits and hopes for the best, for life to return to normal.
Aaron Sorkin’s stage play A Few Good Men, which predates the  better-known 1992 film version of his story of macho men cut down to size, military bullies uncovered and properly disgraced, looks at some of the shady culture behind testosterone-fuelled heroics.
                                                   Epic Photography
Lt. Kaffee (Charlie Gallant) and Lt. Cmdr. Galloway
(Lora Brovold) stake out territory in A Few Good Men
Almost no blood is spilled, and there is no romance in Sorkin’s drama. The one woman in the cast, Joanne, a dutifully persistent lawyer, begins as a Marine unit’s relentless nag, and finishes as alone as she starts, but by the end, she basks in the respect she's won from her male colleagues for her moral leadership and professional competence, not her womanhood. The happy ending turns on nobility and a commitment to justice rather than love between the male and female lead. Sorkin is always bound for higher ground, whether he's looking at American political culture in The West Wing or media culture in The Newsroom.
Lora Brovold, playing Joanne, began the first performance of the preview run a little flat. The men around her include greenhorn military lawyer Daniel Kaffee (Charlie Gallant), whose talent in this early stage of his legal career is finding ways to avoid the hard work of really defending his clients. He’s adept at plea bargaining, preferring time-consuming courtroom competition to pickup baseball.
Brovold’s Joanne could be seen as an outsider and therefore sensibly tentative about how she behaves around the men she has a vague sort of authority over; however, I felt Brovold just didn’t present herself as a force to be reckoned with in the early going.
But as her and Kaffee’s professional relationship develops, as they follow Joanne’s intuition that the two marines they’ve been assigned to defend on murder charges may be victims of subterfuge in an apparently trumped up court martial, Brovold got her footing, and the pair generated plenty of dramatic energy in the second act.
Gallant catches the wind of Sorkin’s often-witty writing from the get-go. His evolution from glib novice lawyer to justice crusader is generally compelling. It’s a big role, and he commands the spotlight comfortably.
The rest of the cast is strong. Jeff Strome has the physique of a marine, and his tough yet submissive portrayal of Cpl. Dawson crackled with masculine aggression. Cole Humeny, Dawson’s co-accused PFC Downey, conveyed the weaker soldier’s confusion and insecurity sympathetically. The pathos was palpable.
Paul Essiembre plays the antagonist, Col Jessop, who is behind the phoney prosecution of the two marines. Essiembre will inevitably be compared to Jack Nicholson’s volcanic Col. Jessop in the film version. Sorkin has drawn his character so clearly that perhaps only an eighty-pound weakling cast as this steely dominator could raise doubts about Jessop’s menacing persona. Essiembre musters all the necessary arrogance and indignation the role demands, and the culminating court room scene when he’s trapped and deflated was fine drama indeed.
Director James MacDonald made good use of Michael Gianfrancesco’s austere stage design, especially the rotating platform that helped move props and players in and out. The device created momentum, a benefit in a play in which the action is in the language.
Sorkin’s specialty is argument and soliloquy. This Citadel Theatre/Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre production of A Few Good Men definitely brings Sorkin's verbal battleground to life. Seeing justice done is always uplifting.


  1. Good review.

    In the first paragraph I assume you mean 'frets and makes do'.