By PAM HARBAUGH
The end does not justify the means, or so we think, in “A Few Good Men,” the courtroom drama currently on stage in a gripping production at Titusville Playhouse.
Written in 1989 by Aaron Sorkin, it explores in part how easy it is to cross moral boundaries. Sorkin is no stranger to social and political issue-driven stories. He wrote and produced for “The West Wing” and for HBO’s “The Newsroom.” He also wrote screenplays for “The Social Network” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
Here, he takes aim at a Marine code of “unit, corps, God and country” and considers how it can set the stage for honor or, unchecked, lead to self-righteousness.
Set in various places in Washington, D.C. and U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it concerns the court martial of Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson (a very appealing and ever-poised Joseph Rose) and PFC Loudon Downey (a bravely vulnerable Ben Youmans).
The two are accused of murdering Pfc. William Santiago in an action called “Code Red,” in which physical bullying is used to induce conformity among the ranks. Code Red has been outlawed on the books, but unofficially sanctioned by two officers, the self-righteous Lt. Jonathan Kendrick (wonderful Gregory Galbreath) and his superior, Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep (a terrific David Baum).
Coming to their defense is Marine lawyer LY. J.G. Daniel Kaffee and Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway. Professional actors Brian Brigthman and Ame Livingston tear into these roles with gusto, delivering natural, fun and engaging portrayals of two Naval lawyers battling not only with each other, but with their clients and the military hierarchy.
The prosecuting attorney is Lt. Jack Ross, portrayed with an almost flamboyant ease, if you will, by Orlando actor Tom Mangieri. It’s a delight to watch both Mangieri and Brightman spar on stage.
But while it could be easy to land on one side or the other of the moral question, Sorkin’s play, under the very smart and artful direction of Stephan Jones, paints a picture that is filled with shades of gray instead of stark black and white.
When Jessep hollers “You can’t handle the truth,” it shouts out to us all. We wonder, what would we do if we were constant moving targets; if our actions determined the security of family, friends and fellow Marines. Is he 100 percent wrong? Indeed, Kaffee uses courtroom trickery to get his way. His act of subterfuge is a means to an end, but we turn a blind eye to that and instead cheer him on.
While a courtroom drama can be pretty stolid on stage – no intercuts like you have in film or TV which accelerates pacing and tension – here, scenic designer Jay Bleakney and lighting/sound designer Philip Lupo move action through multiple locales.
This is a long play, very well performed under the direction of Mr. Jones. It will get you talking.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “A Few Good Men” runs through May 31 at Titusville Playhouse, 301 Julia St., Titusville. It performs 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. to general, with discounts for students, military and seniors 60 years and older. Call 321-268-1125 or visit www.titusvilleplayhouse.com.