By Aaron Sorkin. Directed by Alan Brodie and Tariq Leslie. An Ensemble Theatre Company production. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Tuesday, July 17. Continues until August 17
Aaron Sorkin’s famous play takes its name from an old recruiting slogan for the U.S. Marines: “We’re looking for a few good men.” As the curtain rises, we meet two marines who just need a good lawyer.
Lance Corporal Dawson (Michael Kiapway) and Private First Class Downey (Marc LeBlanc) stand accused of murdering one of their fellow marines. They’re defended by a dispiriting trio of navy lawyers. One, Lieutenant Junior Grade Kaffe (Zac Scott), lazily reverts to plea bargains for his clients. The second, Lieutenant Commander Galloway (Alexis Kellum-Creer), is a keener but has a terrible record in the courtroom. And the third, Lieutenant Junior Grade Weinberg (Sean Anthony), just doesn’t care very much.
The defendants need all the help they can get though, as they find themselves at the centre of a conspiracy far above their pay grade.
Sorkin is, of course, the writer behind beloved TV shows Sports Night and The West Wing and less-beloved movies like Moneyball and The Social Network. His work has a style that’s so distinctive that it’s earned its own adjective: Sorkinesque. His dialogue is full of wry, fast-paced banter and pithy couplets. It’s a particular and precise way of speaking that can be a challenge for actors, but also a precious gift once they master it.
Among the performers, Kellum-Creer had the best ear for the text’s musicality. She had plenty of lawyerly bass notes, but also mined humour from all the clever arpeggio runs that Sorkin builds into his scripts. When Kaffe invites her to join his softball team, she deadpans “No, thank you. I can’t throw or catch things.” Though his character didn’t have much to say, I also admired Kiapway’s brooding intensity.
Speaking of music, the show featured little bursts of interstitial music between scenes. I found it a little difficult to hear the dialogue that began those scenes and couldn’t deduce why some scene changes featured music while others didn’t. I also wasn’t sure if the score, which had a throbbing Bladerunner feel to it, was the right choice.
Except for Galloway, A Few Good Men is usually produced with an all-male cast. She is set among powerful, bloviating men and has to navigate a testosterone-soaked military courtroom.
Directors Alan Brodie and Tariq Leslie opted to cast women in a number of roles. This was surely a practical matter—the show features 14 actors and the company is performing three plays in repertory over the summer—but I wondered if it lowered the stakes for Galloway.
The line we all know from this play—”You can’t handle the truth!”—was voted the 29th greatest movie quote of all time. We don’t remember the great monologue that follows the line—it’s full of spite and vituperation. That speech is perhaps worth the price of admission alone here. For it encompasses all the play’s themes: the price of honour, the sanctity of duty, and the burden of fathers and father figures.