"A Few Good Men" brings Sorkin's powerhouse play about military honor, dedication and retribution to a stunning climax at Diablo Actor's Ensemble!

The Diablo Actor’s Ensemble in Walnut Creek has just stormed the theatrical Bay Area beachheads with a stunning production of Aaron Sorkin’s powerhouse play about military honor, dedication and retribution, “A Few Good Men”. Under the direction of Scott Fryer this play comes vividly to life on a small stage in your immediate presence, almost as if you were in the same room at the same time this series of events takes place. You may remember the 1992 movie of the same name which starred Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson. Following this staged production, several people who had previously seen the movie commented that in some ways, this production is even more believable, with a cast that is for the most part, quite exceptional.

Having served with my US Navy outfit, Beach Jumper Unit 1, stationed primarily in Yokosuka Japan in 1958 through 1960 and having been attached to the combat marine division assigned to Taiwan during Operation Blue Star (the defensive action called under President Eisenhower when the Chinese mainland was shelling the Formosa/Taiwan claimed islands of Quimoy and Matsu), I know well the depth of loyalty, fervor of honor entrenched in the mindset of the marines that I had the good fortune to work with. This powerful play is a powerful re-statement of those values and demonstrates how that depth of loyalty can be misunderstood and misapplied in overzealous practice.

The story begins with preparations being made for the defense of two U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a fellow marine at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on the Southeastern coast of Cuba. A young and relatively inexperienced Naval attorney, Lt. Junior Grade, Daniel “Danny” Kaffee (Nick Childress) is assigned to defend Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Bryan Quinn) and Private First Class Louden Downey (Nate Bogner), who are accused of murdering a fellow marine in a violent “extrajudicial punishment”, a common event often known as a “Code Red”. This type of retribution is one in which fellow marines or sailors (for that matter of fact) punish a member of their platoon or detachment for failing to live up to the high standards of their unit. As an example, a common punishment often takes the form of a bunch of guys hauling the offending member into the showers and scrubbing him raw with heavy duty scrub brushes, hoping he gets “the message”, the message that his teammates don’t want to receive demerits as a group for this one person’s slovenly habits or undisciplined actions.

In this story, two marines took Private First Class William Santiago under their control, tying him up and gagging him in order to shave his head. In the midst of the punishment, something went terribly wrong and private Santiago started bleeding, gagging, and died. Santiago’s perceived offense was tied to his complaints of health problems connected with the demanding and rigorous training exercises given all marines. He could not get a fair evaluation of his health problems and he went outside the chain of command and wrote his congressman requesting a transfer to another unit. This action so inflamed his superiors that an internal Code Red punishment was ordered by his commanding officer and direct superiors. When the private died unexpectedly, a cover-up process ensued and a Navy medical examiner was forced to lie about the cause of death and declare that the death was not an accident, but a murder instigated by these two fellow marines. All superiors from this camp, including commanding officer Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jerry Motta) on down, denied from that point forward that any “Code Red” order was ever given in order to protect their own actions, leaving the two accused marines at the mercy of the courts.

When the two men are arrested, naval investigator and attorney Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway (Samantha Fryer), is suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the death and suspects that a “Code Red” order had been given. Galloway requests being assigned as the defense attorney, but is overruled and the case is assigned to an attorney, Kaffee, known for his penchant to work out plea bargains rather than risk testing his prowess or lack thereof as a courtroom attorney. An additional attorney is also assigned to the defense team, Lieutenant Sam Weinberg (Vince Faso).
There are more actors than I have the space to detail, filling important roles that help portray the mentality of the military establishment, but none in this production more important than lead attorney Lieutenant Kaffee (Nick Childress ) with his excellent portrayal; Colonel Jessup is played incredibly well by Jerry Motta and Santiago’s immediate officer, Lieutenant Jonathan Kendrick (a evangelistic purveyor of biblical passages and military euphemisms), is played superbly by Henry Perkins. Samantha Fryer plays Lieutenant Commander Galloway, but is not as effective as she should have been. Her acting and delivery of lines was at times quite good, but she needs a deeper, more mature, more powerful sounding voice. One of Kaffee’s lines states something to the effect that “you’re the kind of girl guys like me used to torture in the 6th grade!” Sam really needs to work on lowering the tone of her "6th grade voice! "

This production of “A Few Good Men” is certainly on a very professional level, very memorable, certainly worthy of Sorkin’s powerful script. Just when you think a little theater such as this cannot get any better, it does! “A Few Good Men” runs now through October 1st in the DAE (Diablo Actor's Ensemble) Theater located at 1345 Locust Street in downtown Walnut Creek, right next door to Peet’s Coffee. You may call (925) 826-5216 for ticket information or reservations or you may visit their website at http://www.diabloactors.com/ for more information. There is a large public parking garage directly across the street from the theater. Get there early as sometimes the garage fills up early in this very busy part of town.