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DRAMA : 'A Few Good Men' Returns to Stage : This production of the play that became a hit movie is fast-paced and packed with suspense, humor and ideas.

September 02, 1993|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Still fresh in the memory from its recent hit film edition, Aaron Sorkin's military/courtroom drama "A Few Good Men" returns to its theatrical origins in the current Conejo Players production. With its use of live counterparts to the film version's flashbacks, cross-fades and jump cuts, this is a most cinematic play--more cinematic, ironically, than the movie.

It's a fast-moving show under the direction of Devery Holmes, packed with suspense, humor and ideas.

Aumi Katz stars as Lt. Daniel Kaffee, a Navy attorney assigned to defend two Marines accused of murdering a member of their own platoon. Of course, the case isn't all that simple.

The defendants, Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson (Doug Spearman) and Pfc. Louden Downey (Randy Singer) were carrying out a "code red," an in-house disciplinary action. They hadn't meant to murder Pfc. William Santiago (John Lemos), they say, and hadn't done anything that would cause his death. Yet the post medic (Ken Johnson) testifies that Santiago was poisoned. So what really happened, and who was responsible?

The play's lone female, Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway (Annie Herrera) is upset that she was passed over as defense attorney, but Lt. Sam Weinberg (Gary Romm) seems content to be relatively free of responsibility as he assists his friend, Kaffee. Before long, Galloway--well aware that she outranks Kaffee and seems more concerned about the case--has joined the defense as well.

Many of the play's best moments take place when Kaffee, Galloway and Weinberg are holed up in Kaffee's apartment, working out their defense and coming to terms with one another. The showiest scenes, though, are those involving Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep (Arnold Fadden), the commanding officer of the Marine base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the defendants are stationed.

In the film version, Jack Nicholson played the foulmouthed, manipulating and somehow charming Jessep, something that Fadden won't allow the audience to forget as he appropriates Nicholson's accent and mannerisms. He's not bad--even effective--but it would have been nice to have seen Fadden create his own version of the character first played on stage by Stephen Lang, who in no way resembles Nicholson.

Especially strong performances are turned in by Romm, Ken Johnson as an officer with a conscience, Brixton Karnes as the prosecuting attorney, Othar as Jessep's lieutenant and Doug Spearman as defendant Dawson.

Though the mystery and courtroom showdown form the backbone of "A Few Good Men," its spirit is the examination of what constitutes honor, loyalty and duty--words that hold quite different meanings for these Marines than for the defense (and, we suspect, for many civilians).

Jessep is rather less an ogre here than portrayed in Sorkin's screenplay, which is all to the good; he is, after all, doing his best to defend his country, even if he inadvertently tramples the ideals upon which it was founded. Sorkin could have allowed Jessep to make a more satisfactory case to be made for discipline in the military, and it's too bad that his aide, Lt. Kendrick, remains a cardboard villain, a cartoon Bible-thumper.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"A Few Good Men" continues through Oct. 2 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, in Thousand Oaks. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 on Thursdays, $10 on Fridays and Saturdays. For reservations or further information, call 495-3715.

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