Is a soldier morally responsible for the consequences of following direct orders? What if the actions resulted in an accidental death? And what if it is uncertain whether an order actually was given? This is the sticky situation U.S. Navy lawyers confront in A Few Good Men, a courtroom drama presented by The NOLA Project at Delgado Community College.
A Few Good Men was written by playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (TV's The West Wing), and the 1992 film version starred Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. Sorkin's character-driven plot is based on a case defended by his sister in the Navy Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps involving soldiers based at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The complex plot examines the Marine Corps' "unquestioning loyalty to unit, corps, God and country" and the legal implications resulting from a broken chain of command.
The Marines are known to be rigidly disciplined, and the Navy JAG Corps is not a lackadaisical environment, but this legal defense team appears awfully loose. Lt. j.g. Daniel Kaffee's (A.J. Allegra) father was a high-ranking officer, so Kaffee gets special privileges, but Allegra's characterization is too careless and disrespectful to be believed. Kaffee considers baseball practice more important than his legal practice, and in nine months in the JAG Corps he has never been inside a courtroom, plea- bargaining 44 cases. He is assigned to represent Marines who killed a private during a "Code Red," a Guantanamo Bay hazing exercise. When Kaffee offers the soldiers a way to limit their jail time, Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson (Matthew Eli Judd) heatedly responds: "You're asking us to say that we're not Marines. If a court decides that what we did was wrong, then I'll accept whatever punishment they give. I believe I was right. I believe I did my job. But I will not dishonor myself, my unit or the Corps so that I can go home in six months, sir!"
Lt. j.g. Sam Weinberg (Andrew Larimer) and Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway (Cecile Monteyne), the Navy's special counsel for internal affairs, join the defense team, and they go head-to-head with the belligerent and self-righteous Lt. Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Michael Aaron Santos), which is where the drama belatedly ignites.
Kaffee earns his stripes in the courtroom when Jessep testifies and his story starts to crack.
While the story is intriguing, the direction presents a confusing juxtaposition of joviality and grim backdrop of barbed wire and concrete. The new Timothy K. Baker Theatre has an impressive new and wide stage, but use of the space diffuses personal confrontations in this drama.
Monteyne's Galloway is alternately aggressive and timid, traits that probably would not have earned her high rank. More convincing portrayals of military demeanor were provided by Kris LaMorte as Cmdr. Walter Stone, Keith Claverie as Lt. Jack Ross and Judd and Timothy Francois as the accused soldiers, Dawson and Pfc. Louden Downey, respectively. They made the weighty drama feel more credible and timely.