WASHINGTON’S KEEGAN Theatre touch down in the Town Hall next week with its much acclaimed staging of Aaron Sorkin’s military courtroom drama A Few Good Men.
Most people will be familiar with the work from the hugely successful 1992 film version starring Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, and Jack Nicholson, but the play has also proved a big hit with audiences, running for nearly 500 performances on Broadway.
A Few Good Men was Sorkin’s career breakthrough as a writer and his subsequent writing credits include major TV and film works such as The West Wing, The Social Network, The American President, Moneyball, and The Newsroom.
Sorkin got the idea for the play from his sister who had been a military lawyer who defended a marine over a ‘hazing’ incident in which a fellow marine had almost been killed.
In Sorkin’s drama two marines, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson and Private Louden Downey, are put on trial for the murder of a comrade, Private William Santiago at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. The main navy lawyer, Lieutenant Kaffee is more interested in softball than the court case and initially expects the trial will be resolved by a plea bargain.
However, at the prompting of fellow defence team member Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway, Kaffee decides to defend the charges more vigourously and contends his clients were acting under orders from their commanding officer.
Kaffee’s pursuit of justice and his determination to reveal a cover-up puts the military mentality and the Marine code of honour on trial in a gripping drama and conflict of wills.
Keegan’s production of A Few Good Men is directed by Jeremy Skidmore (who previously directed Glengarry Glen Ross for the company ) and the cast features Keegan artistic director Mark Rhea in the role of base commander Colonel Nathan Jessep.
Ahead of their Galway visit, Skidmore and Rhea took some time out to answer a few questions about the production. I began by asking whether there were any notable differences between the play and the film version?
“The role of JoAnne Galloway is less submissive in the play,” Skidmore replies. “There are small things that may be different but overall it follows pretty close.”
Skidmore goes on to describe the play's depiction of the military culture and establishment.
“While the central plot follows a moment in time where the military system is broken, I think it does a beautiful job of depicting why people join the military and believe in its structure and values.”
The military establishment is personified in the vivid, formidable figure of Colonel Jessep who epitomises the macho, military mindset. Mark Rhea tells me what’s it like to play the role.
“I think Jessep believes in his way of running his unit and as an actor I believe he is right,” he says. “The play is awesome because when we did it in the US people were on the fence on who to side with because without the Jessep types in the military the country is a little less safe. His true weakness is the cover-up. I do not think of Jack Nicholson at all - I just lay it out there as I see it and how Jeremy wanted me to play him.”Rhea sums up director Jeremy Skidmore’s vision for the play,
“He wanted to make it clear from the beginning that it was not the Tom Cruise film so he cast an Iranian-American actor in the role of Kaffee,” he says. “I was a huge supporter of this casting choice. He wanted the staging to remain dynamic, especially in the courtroom scenes, so the audience as jury’s perspective constantly alters by rotating the arrangement of the courtroom itself. Audiences found it very compelling.”
Washington audiences and critics shared Rhea’s assessment with the show drawing full houses and rave reviews during its initial American run. The Washington Post praised Skidmore’s direction for ‘the production’s crispness, vigour and beats of emotion’ while DC Metro Arts also enthused about the quality of performances and concluded: “A Few Good Men is a remarkable production. Be sure to see this great interpretation and this incredible cast.”
The play has a much larger cast than Keegan normally tour to Ireland with, and Rhea acknowledges it is a big challenge.
“It is a massive undertaking on my part as there are 13 actors, as well as our director, two stage managers, and lighting designer,” he says. “There are also like 50 costumes most of which are military. Now it is impressive to see but not sure what I was thinking when I pushed for the show to tour.
“I just had this idea in my head that seeing all those US military costumes on stage in Ireland would be impressive to see. I also thought of Mike Diskin and how he would have been watering at the mouth to have the show here and we’re dedicating the run here to his memory.”
Away from their touring activities, these are also exciting times for Keegan in its Washington home base. The company is carrying out major renovations of its Church Street Theatre and also plan to purchase the premises.
“The groundbreaking work has already started,” Rhea tells me. “The big building stuff is about to happen right as we leave for Ireland so I’m a tad stressed just now!”
No doubt Keegan will see the endeavour through successfully just as it does with its theatre productions.
A Few Good Men is at the Town Hall Theatre from Monday August 18 to Saturday 23. Tickets are €20/18 from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie