The audience Sunday at the Stageworks matinee showing of “A Few Good Men” broke into spontaneous and sustained applause as the house lights came up, and, well, what’s so unusual about that?
Nothing, I guess, unless you consider the cheering came not at the conclusion of the play, but at intermission.
Couple that with the buzz in the lobby in anticipation of the second act, and you begin to understand how skillfully the cast of this ambitious production grabbed the audience and kept it riveted throughout.
Now, let’s be honest: While live theater is a different animal from the movies, people will be tempted going in to compare the characters in this play to the ones made famous by Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore in the 1992 cinematic version of this story.
The good news is, the play doesn’t give you a lot of time to do that.
Start with the script by Aaron Sorkin, creator of “The West Wing,” arguably the best show in the history of television. Sorkin tells the tale of two Marines who were hung out by their superiors on a bogus murder charge in the name of saving high-ranking backsides.
The play comes out fast from the gate and maintains a brisk pace under the direction of Karla Hartley, with seamless scene changes and a minimalist set to cut down distractions.
Joanna Sycz, as Lt. Cmdr. Joannie Galloway, was wonderful. We know people like her character, don’t we? They won’t let go of the slightest point. They are maybe a little awkward and overly pushy, but they are driven by a sense of right and wrong.
As she noted at one point, “I’m the girl guys like you hated in the sixth grade.”
Sycz nailed the role as the passive-aggressive attorney who forced her way onto the case and relentlessly drove the lead counselor — Lt. j.g.Daniel A. Kaffee, played by Cornelio Aguilera — until he found purpose in bringing justice to what otherwise would have been a railroad job.
Aguilera’s development from what was characterized as “... a used-car salesman ... an ambulance-chaser with a rank” into a brilliant and gutsy defense lawyer was well-handled. We can see his growth and determination as the play unfolds to the final showdown with Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep.
We’ve all heard the line from the movie. We’ve said it ourselves: “You can’t handle the truth!”
The venerable Dennis Duggan as Jessup handled it.
Duggan is brilliant and versatile. He made us love him in the earlier Stageworks production as Lenny in “Of Mice and Men.”
He made us loathe him here.
If you’re going to attack a role made famous by Nicholson, Duggan would be the guy you’d want taking the part. He was understated at times, aggressive, creepy, scary and intimidating. He was evil personified.
There were other standout performances, too. Robert Richards Jr., as the tortured and principled Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson, was compelling. So was Nicholas Hoop as the slow-witted Pfc. Louden Downey. And I was particularly struck by the strong work of Brandon R. Shea as Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick.
There were a few minor blips — some stumbled lines, and one or two bits of awkward timing. I assume the cast will clean that up before the show ends its run on May 18.
If you’re looking for a play that will capture you from the start and keep you to the end, though, this one gets the job done.