For a play whose characters spend considerable time standing at attention — or hovering, with disciplined posture, near a testifying witness — there’s an impressive physical dynamism to the Keegan Theatre’s “A Few Good Men.” Aaron Sorkin’s banter-threaded potboiler is a courtroom drama, a genre that can all too easily come off as static. And yet, as directed by Jeremy Skidmore, this entertaining production brims with movement, directional shifts and evolving perspectives. Sitting in the audience, you can almost feel the military establishment bustling around you.
The patriotism, zeal and flaws of that establishment are hinted at in Steven Royal’s striking set, dominated by a massive, near-recumbent U.S. flag that slants across the stage, its fabric drooping onto a staircase at the far right. The flagpole is broad and flat, and its surface becomes a patrol spot and occasional thoroughfare for the play’s characters.
Those characters are military men and one woman, caught up in a court-martial of two Marines. While stationed at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson (Jon Hudson Odom) and Pfc. Louden Downey (Adi Stein) tied up and gagged a fellow Marine, who later died. Was the tragedy a spontaneous hazing-style incident gone wrong or an act of premeditated revenge? Were superior officers involved? Was there a coverup? Have the Marines been prioritizing loyalty over justice? These and other questions confront the defense lawyers, who become increasingly stressed after their clients refuse to accept a lenient plea deal.
The engaging actor Maboud Ebrahimzadeh nails the wisecracking humor and guarded braininess of lead defense attorney Lt. j.g. Daniel A. Kaffee, a Harvard alum whose deceptively flip attitude masks a craving for success. “One more, and I get a set of steak knives!” he deadpans after a supervisor refers to the 44 plea deals Kaffee has recently wrapped up.
Brianna Letourneau is suitably brisk and compassionate as Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway, a special counsel who irks Kaffee, partly because she is more concerned with right vs. wrong than with winning vs. losing. Michael Innocenti can be quite funny as Lt. j.g. Sam Weinberg, their gloomy, overtired colleague.
Other notable performances in the generally effective 16-person cast include Nathaniel Mendez as the murdered Marine, whose nervous, fidgety mannerisms — seen in flashback sequences — help round out the back story. And Jonathan Feuer puts just the right subtly crazed gleam in the eyes of 1st Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick, Dawson and Downey’s commanding officer.
But it is probably Skidmore who can take most credit for the production’s crispness, vigor and beats of emotion. In one clever touch, the witness stand and counsel tables sometimes swivel between court-martial scenes, keeping the stage picture new. And the production shrewdly exploits nooks in the Andrew Keegan Theatre (as the Church Street Theater is called following the Keegan Theatre’s purchase of the building): Characters turn up in the aisle, on an upper tier of the set, behind the aforementioned flagpole and so on, conveying a sense of spatial and institutional complexity. (Kyle Grant contributes the dramatic lighting.)
Recent news events, such as the court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning and the revelations about government surveillance, have arguably given Sorkin’s play added resonance. But even without that hook of topicality, this “A Few Good Men” displays a few good moves.
Wren is a freelance writer.
by Aaron Sorkin. Directed by Jeremy Skidmore; costume design, Chelsey Schuller; composer/sound designer, Elisheba Ittoop; properties and set dressing, Carol Floretta H. Baker; hair and makeup, Craig Miller; assistant director, Amber McGinnis Jackson. With Kevin Adams, Peter Finnegan, Mark A. Rhea, Bradley Foster Smith, Jon Townson and others. About 2 hours 40 minutes. Through Sept. 7 at the Andrew Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW. Visit www.keegantheatre.com or call 703-892-0202.