Monday, September 8, 2014

A Few Good Men

Playwright:  Aaron Sorkin
Company:  Spotlight Theatre Company
VenueThe John Hand Theater, 7653 East First Place, Denver CO, 80230.
Running Time:  2 hour 30 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance:  Sunday, September 7, 2014
Many of us are familiar with A Few Good Men; it was a 1992 courtroom drama film starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, and Demi Moore.  It takes some "stones" to put A Few Good Men on the small stage at the John Hand Theater knowing it will be compared to the big budget Hollywood film version.  I am here to tell you that Director Bernie Cardell and Executive Producer Pat Payne have no fear of that comparison.  Nor should they.
Court Martial of Lance Corporal Dawson (Dylan Rush) and PFC Downey (Josh Lamb)
The story, for those who may not have seen the film, involves two low level marines at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, accused of murdering one of their own:  Private First Class William Santiago.  The Court Martial appears to be an open and shut case, and Lt. J.G. Dan Kaffee, a smart ass, inexperienced and minimally dedicated attorney is assigned to defend the pair.  He does defend them, following the twists and turns of the evidence to an unexpected verdict.
There's MUCH more to the story, but you'll have to buy a ticket to hear it.
Cast of "A Few Good Men" with Rosemary Smith, Costume Designer

Spotlight Theatre Company's production has a large (15) and very strong cast on a magnificent but simple set.  Lighting (Vance McKenzie) is focused on the actors, whether there is 1 or the entire cast on the set.   The lighting is especially dramatic for Captain Matthew A. Markinson's (Marc Stith) unforgettable final scene.
Luke Allen Terry's sound design includes a lot of military music, as well as a shocking, dramatic gun shot.  Both are essential to the drama and the mood for A Few Good Men.
Set for "A Few Good Men."
Bernie Cardell's set design is a multilevel and highly functional one that represents the many locations involved, from Gitmo to Washington D.C.  A few strands of barbed wire in the background remind us of both Guantanamo Bay, where the crime takes place, and Fort Leavenworth where the guilty will serve their sentences.  A large American flag on the wall serves to highlight the courtroom during the Court Martial.  It's a very small space, but Cardell utilizes every square inch with a few tables, a few chairs, and very little else.
Cardell's direction, with help from Haley Johnson, is fast paced and focused; the action is non-stop as the complicated story unfolds.  Rosemary Smith's costumes are incredibly accurate recreations of military uniforms, from service white to service blue and service khaki. These "costumes" are, to my untrained eye, precisely how the characters should be dressed for A Few Good Men.  Every detail in the costumes, from the starchy look of the shirts to the female headgear, looks authentic.
L-R:  Charlie Wingerter (Lt. J.G. Weinberg), Stephen Krusoe (Lt. J.G. Kaffee), Miriam BC Tobin (Lt. Cmdr Galloway). 

It is the cast of 15 actors, however, that really make A Few Good Men rise above the crowd.  Each delivers a professional, emotional, and authentic performance with the proper military precision.  That said, though, it is Andrew Uhlenhopp (Col. Nathan Jessup) who stands out in this stellar cast.
Andrew Uhlenhopp (Col. Nathan Jessup)
Uhlenhopp is riveting as the Gitmo commander.  He is arrogant, sarcastic, dedicated, intimidating, volatile, stern, and principled.  He is also misguided, and Uhlenhopp cleverly shows us the man both dominating his subordinates and then breaking down when confronted by his own lies.  Uhlenhopp's performance is off the charts; he pulls out all the stops.  You cannot see him on stage without whispering "wow" to yourself.  He's on my short list for 2014 acting awards.  Yes, he's that good here.
A Few Good Men took me by surprise.  It's been a long time since I've seen the film, but I thought I knew what to expect.  I was wrong.  Instead of sitting back and watching what I thought would be a routine drama, I spent a good part of 2 hours on the edge of my seat.  Spotlight's production is taut, engaging, and rewarding.  
I don't usually say "don't miss this one," but that's the correct advice for A Few Good Men.  Don't miss this one.  

A Few Good Men contains strong language and intense scenes.  It should be OK for teens if they can handle a dramatized suicide.
I am posting a few more photos than usual for A Few Good Men.  It's a large cast and a beautiful set, and I want to convey as much of the audience experience as possible through a few extra photos.
The John Hand Theater is located on the Lowry Campus of Colorado Free University.  For those unfamiliar with the area, it is off Quebec Street near 1st, just east of the Lowry Town Center.  There is a parking lot at the theater.  
Full Disclosure #1:  I'm a retired attorney; my practice was employment law.  That may be useful information for the reader, as I'm probably much more interested in courtroom dramas than the average person.  
Full Disclosure #2:  I have never served in the military.  To the extent that something in A Few Good Men might not quite ring true to a veteran, I would likely not notice it.
This show closes on September 27, 2014. 

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
Casey's Bistro and Pub, 7301 East 29th Avenue (Stapleton Town Center),is an Irish style pub with a terrific menu and a "Geeks Who Drink" trivia contest every Thursday at 9:00 PM.  Have a pint with your fish and chips; Irish draft beers include Guinness, Kilkenney,  and Smithwicks.
It's about a 10 minute drive between the restaurant and the theater, weather and traffic conditions permitting.   

Tickets HERE.

Creative Team:
Director:  Bernie Cardell
Assistant Director:  Haley Johnson
Scenic Design:  Bernie Cardell
Lighting Design:  Vance McKenzie
Sound Design:  Luke Allen Terry
Costume Design:  Rosemary Smith

Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawson:  Dylan Rush
PFC Louden Downey:  Josh Lamb
Lt. J.G. Sam Weinberg:  Charlie Wingerter
Lt. J.G. Daniel A. Kaffee:  Stephen Krusoe
Lt. Commander Joanne Galloway:  Miriam BC Tobin
Colonel Nathan Jessep:  Andrew UIhlenhopp
Captain Matthew A. Markinson:  Marc Stith


  1. What a stellar performance and review by you, about as accurate and clear a review as one can write or get. Crystal. Concise. Telling....

    And Mr.Ulhlenhopp "fits the bill" and commendation perfectly. Thanks.....

  2. "Stellar." Exactly. It was an excellent production by all concerned.

    And thanks for the kind words about the review...that means a lot to me. I do this as a hobby, and between traveling to and from Colorado Springs, a couple of hours in the theater, and an additional 4 hours of writing, revising, formatting for the web, and posting, I spend about 8 hours on each review.

    It's great to know that you noticed...and took the time to say so. Thanks.