- By gentleguide
- On Sat 12 may 2018
The Marine Corps official motto is “Semper Fidelis”, which is Latin for “Always Faithful.” In Newton Community Theatre’s upcoming production of A Few Good Men, the military code of conduct in the Marine Corps is examined in detail, and it’s not a place where everyone would be comfortable. But comfort isn’t the goal, it’s about being true to ideals and honor. Not everyone can live up to that, but it’s still worth striving for.
The story of A Few Good Men concerns the circumstances surrounding a Marine soldier’s death. Military lawyer LT JG Kaffee (played by Troy Gould) is assigned the case, which he figures will be a plea bargain deal and be done with, but he’s cajoled by a Naval Investigator, JoAnne Galloway (Adrianne Fazel), to actually try the case and win for the defendants. Those defendants believed they’ve acted faithfully and honorably, according to the code of the Marines... which may not really help their case in a military court.
With plot twists and revelations throughout, the case finally leads to a riveting trial, and a confrontation between Kaffee and the dead soldier’s Commanding Officer, Colonel Nathan Jessup (Spencer Ver Meer). And while all the characters are ultimately faithful to what they believe, the truth of those beliefs may be called into question. Many hold strong. Others are found perhaps wanting.
Faithful to the Corps
It was vitally important to make certain that military life and behavior was portrayed accurately in Newton’s production of A Few Good Men. Director John Dougan knew he needed to be faithful to the ideas of the military, even if not all his characters ultimately are. “I was raised in a home that taught some of the same values and discipline. From day 1 of my planning, it was my intent to have a military advisor for this production. We have two veterans in our show, and a couple of folks that have been involved in ROTC programs.”
Assistant Director Shawn Pavlik is also versed in the military aspects of the show, and details the specifics of some of Newton’s efforts. “My older brother and sister were both in the Navy, and it was my intention to join the military as an officer following college. Unfortunately, my asthma kept me from joining the military. I did ROTC in college, so I do understand many of the protocols and traditions in the military. I have always looked up to those who have worn the uniform in defense of our country.”
“That’s why, for this show, we wanted to make sure the military procedures that we did in the show were as accurate as possible. Scott Schaeffer has been an invaluable resource for us, both as our military ‘expert’ and as our stage manager. I also called my sister a few times and asked about a few military procedures.”
The journey of Lt. Kaffee from a “make the deal, make no waves” backroom lawyer to a passionate trial attorney is the central focus of much of A Few Good Men, and local favorite Troy Gould is playing the military barrister. “Playing Kaffee has been one of the biggest challenges of my life. The amount of scene changes and the pacing of the show makes this a brilliant challenge. The characters are all so iconic and well written that it makes for a wonderful show both to act in and to see for the audience.”
Of course, some of that audience might be more familiar with the very successful movie version of A Few Good Men, starring Jack Nicholson as Jessup and Tom Cruise as Kaffee. But many don’t realize that the stage version of A Few Good Men came first, and was adapted into movie form by original author Aaron Sorkin.
Faithful to the Character
“Performing a piece that was a famous movie, seen by many, is not really the challenge,” says director Dougan. “The challenge is that some people want to play it as the actor portrayed it in the movie. Well, my actors are great, but they are not Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Pollack, Kevin Bacon, and certainly not Jack Nicholson. I am okay with [our actors] watching the movie because I believe it gives you a great idea of the tone, but you need to make it your own.”
In portraying Kaffee, Gould realizes the kinds of differences inherent in performing a movie vs. a play, both in timing and in actor choices. “We are not trying to mirror the movie or their characters. This play stands on its own as a well written court drama. The script is somewhat different in spots as well. The characters’ timing and pacing in the courtroom scenes is crucial. The stage version has a certain intensity that you can only have with live theatre. There are no do-overs. The audience feels like a part of the show.”
Assistant Director Pavlik picks up on this aspect of immediacy in the performance. “As with all ‘live’ performances, if you make a mistake, you can’t just say cut and go back to the previous spot and start over. So, as actors are learning, if someone forgets a line, they have to figure out a way to get their fellow actor back on track, and yet not lose any of the important plot points. I think seeing a live version is much more interesting than watching a movie, and you can see the reactions of everyone on stage as compared to a movie, where the camera can often be focused on 1-2 individuals in a scene.”
Faithful to the Message
According to the audition call for A Few Good Men, this is a show with 14 male parts and only 1 female. Most community theatres aren’t that deep when it comes of actors, male or female, to be able to cast a show that way. Recent productions elsewhere have recast certain parts to be more gender-equal. But as Pavlik points out, part of the message they wanted to portray required the specific casting call.
“I think having a mixed gender cast for such an iconic show does change the message of the show a bit,” he says. “Sorkin was very intentional about having only ONE female in the cast for this show. Her struggle against the patriarchal, old school military is an important piece of this show. In addition, this show is set in the mid-1980’s when women were not in combat roles, so that also changes the intent. If this show were set in current times, then including more female characters would be more acceptable.”
Director Dougan marched in unison with this idea, and was ready in case the casting hadn’t worked out. “The problem was not in the quantity of males but finding the appropriate ages and body types fitting that of military rank and physique. The real challenge, finding the one woman that could truly portray the strength it takes to be JoAnne. The list of people we had to decline on, both male and female, could easily be your lead actors in almost any other show.”
“I personally refused to do this show if we would have needed to cast additional females in male roles. I had plan B and plan C shows in my pocket if needed. The true underlying message of this show was JoAnne navigating in a world not her own.”
Much like JoAnne’s situation, worlds change constantly. Fortunately, there might be a few things that stand up to change, or at the very least allow both consistency and change to survive together. For those in A Few Good Men, it’s a journey to prove that their faith in the Corps, their character, and the truth will bring them through.
Semper Fidelis. Always Faithful.
For audiences who can handle the truth of the messages in A Few Good Men, Newton’s production begins Friday May 18 and runs through Saturday May 26 (Fri, Sat, Sun first weekend, Thu, Fri, Sat second weekend). Performances are at the Newton Community Theatre Auditorium, located in the YMCA building at 1701 South 8th Ave. East in Newton. Tickets are available at the door, or by phone (check the Newton Community Theatre website for box office hours.)