Director Fred Nuccio likes his drama raw and real. His memorable 1998 offering of Twelve Angry Men at True Brew (for which he received a Big Easy Entertainment Awards Best Director nomination) took us into the jury room of a murder trial. Now, in the same theater, Nuccio once again brings us face to face with murder and its consequences. A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin (creator of TV's The West Wing) was a Broadway success in the late 1980s and then was made into a film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore, among others.
As the title suggests, the murder in question takes place in the Marine Corps. This complicates matters, for the U.S. Marine Corps is a world apart, with its own "code" and its own sense of honor. There is something at once futuristic and tribal in the way the Corps functions. It's futuristic in the Orwellian sense of omnipotent bureaucratic control over individual behavior. For instance, the accused murderers stand at attention and ask for "permission to speak" before speaking. This strict subservience is mitigated, however, by the tribal aspect of the Corps. For there is a secret etiquette with its roots in the violent nature of warfare that the members of this closed society adhere to. One of the rituals of the etiquette is called "a code red." A code red involves the informal and sometimes brutal punishing of a Marine who in some way violates the code.
In A Few Good Men, a Marine named Santiago, stationed at the Guantanamo base in Cuba, has died. Santiago was unhappy at Guantanamo; he wanted out. He even wrote complaining letters to his U.S. senator in order to obtain a transfer.
The military attorneys sent to defend the Marines accused of killing Santiago want to know if there was a code red ordered on the victim. That is to say, were the two Marines charged with the crime acting under orders? Then again, what caused the death? For instance, did the gag the accused Marines put in Santiago's mouth cause bleeding, which in turn killed him? Or was the gag laced with a poison, say, anti-freeze, as the doctor who handled the case suggests? Poison, needless to say, would be a more damning scenario.
Now, I have to admit a military tribunal does not in itself entice me. But this script is tight and fascinating, and the cast does a great job creating a believable, complex world. The drama, seen up close in the intimate little theater, is riveting. It's not a question of theatrics, or chewing up the scenery. The strange world just becomes so very real.
Andy English, Bob Scully and Tari Hohn Lagasse are a simpatico legal defense team. They don't always see eye to eye. In fact, their squabbling is part of the tale. Nickolas Cornell and Benjamin Francis play the accused Marines. Their strict adherence to the code of the Corps is frustrating for their lawyers and conveys a sense of, what: superiority, disdain, fatalism? You get a message from their indomitable stubborn aloofness, but you can't quite decode it. These are men who would rather obey the code and serve six years in the brig than cut a deal and get off with six months.
Jerry Lee Leighton gives us a Marine colonel who is tough and difficult and, once again, utterly believable. His toughness seems almost genetic. He is also shrewd and, perhaps, somewhat cynical about the ways of the world. His momentary loss of control on the witness stand takes your breath away, partly because he seems to be so much about control. Others in the excellent cast are Eli Grove, Jay George, John Bull, Edward Rivera, Jeremy Horowitz, John Kelly and Kathy Taaffe. The simple, effective set was designed by Philip Wingerter.
While contemplating the convincing quality of the production, it's worth noting that director Nuccio spent 13 years in the Marine Corps and left the service as a staff sergeant. He says he considers A Few Good Men a pretty accurate representation of the Corps, although, he hastens to add, things are not always quite that violent. New Orleans theater is rife with light entertainment. And why not? But this taut drama is more engaging than many of the entertainments. It doesn't sound like it would be, but it is.
- Tari Hohn Lagasse, Andy English and Jerry Lee Leighton take on the U.S. Marine Corps in Aaron Sorkin's A Few Good Men, extended for one more weekend at True Brew.