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Monday November 24th 2014

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Military Drama Right At Home in Pensacola

Osama bin Laden’s Demise Brings Attention to Stage Production
By Barry Shuck

The movie “A Few Good Men” (“AFGM”) was a terrific flick. How could the producers go wrong with well-knowns such as Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Noah Wyle, Kiefer Sutherland, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Jack Nicholson?

“AFGM” was highly successful at the box office and grossed over $237 million worldwide. The film was also nominated for four Academy Awards and five Golden Globes.

There is a live version of this triumphant movie coming to Pensacola Little Theatre. Odds are if you liked the film, you’ll love the play.

“A Few Good Men,” written by Aaron Sorkin, is a drama—well, make that a military drama. And what better place to house a military drama than the Florida Panhandle, an area gushing with Naval and Air Force personnel, as well as Marines, Army and Coast Guard.

“There is something to be said for the basic theme of truth,” said director Kathy Holsworth. “This play is a historical conundrum of the military and the individual’s ability to make choices based on moral compunction, not just because you were ordered by superior officers to do something.”

The storyline of “AFGM” is based on actual events. A young Marine, Pfc. William Santiago, is found dead at Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) Naval Base in 1986, and two of his platoon members are charged with his murder.

Col. Nathan Jessup, the base commander and a highly decorated senior Marine officer, makes the decision to not transfer Santiago after instructing other officers that it is their duty to train these young Marines to become defenders of our
nation. Lackadaisical attitudes of the United States Marines are not tolerated at Guantanamo Bay. A hazing, or “Code Red,” was ordered of the young Marine in an attempt to get him in line.

The two Marines are accused of attacking Santiago; they then blindfold him, stuff a rag down his mouth, beat him and shave his head. He would later die of complications.

Jerod Perez plays one of the Marines accused of the murder, Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson. “When (my character) received the order he didn’t hesitate to act, that wouldn’t be in his nature—because an order is an order,” he said. “He’s been eating, sleeping and training Marine Corps for the past few years, so it’s just become second nature to him to be the model Marine.”

The attorney in charge of representing the two Marines in the murder and court-martial proceeding is Lt. JAG Daniel Kaffee, an inexperienced Navy lawyer. Kaffee himself is somewhat lazy and is known for pleading out his cases. In fact, he has never in fact worked in an actual court room. He agrees to a plea bargain, which includes prison time for the two Marines, without much effort on the case.

But Kaffee starts to have second thoughts about the deal, and in fact begins to consider that the two men are not guilty in a sense. His two co-counsels, Lt. Sam Weinberg and Lt. Cmdr. JoAnn Galloway have always felt that way. In fact, it is Galloway who feels the men acted upon a “Code Red” ordered by a superior officer. She doesn’t believe they are innocent, she just doesn’t believe that they acted autonomously in cold blood and wants Kaffee to take the case to trial.

“JoAnn has one real motivation, and that’s to secure a fair trial for these men,” explained Lauren Brownlow, who plays the part of Galloway. “She is curious about the case because of its unusual nature and then becomes impassioned to ascertain the truth no matter what shoulder bars it hides behind. She’s not concerned with what they did, but with why they did it and why it’s being covered up.”

As the lone female character in a male-dominated cast, director Holsworth realizes that Brownlow has her work cut out for her. “It is interesting that this character is female, because it doesn’t really matter to the plot that she is,” she noted. “Lauren was selected for this part because she carries herself with this incredible personal assurance.”

Over the course of the script, there is friction between Kaffee and Galloway. Kaffee slowly becomes the lawyer he is destined to be, and Galloway evolves as well. She holds the belief that Kaffee does not care about his clients, and that the two Marines were only following orders that caused essentially an accident. Kaffee conveys that she is meddling with his position as lead-counsel and how he handles the case at hand. They eventually come to want to learn the truth and somehow find a way to co-exist, earning each other’s trust and respect.

“Ultimately, the play isn’t about a ‘Code Red.’ It’s about how the truth hides behind things and how once they are uncovered it can set you free somehow,” related Brownlow.

Holsworth has done her homework on military protocol and even enlisted the services of Maj. Matthew Sproat and Staff Sgt. Dan Langford, who have assumed the role of production military advisors (although they are not actually in the show). The scenes are believable with an experienced cast who hold a gamut of actual military duty themselves. There is a total of 114 years of combined military service among this cast, and it is quite evident that this script speaks to them.

Please note that this show contains adult language.

Other cast members include Brian A. Kuczynski, Matthew Lamb, Doug Weissman, Ken Armitage, Bill Messer, David Keao, Doug Holsworth, Jay Bixler, David Blanton, Christian Cardon, Bill Mankins, Jim Burnette, Benjamin Haupt and John Addison.

“A lot happens in the two hours we have the audience, but we will power through scene after scene to keep them on an emotional roller coaster,” Holsworth concluded.

With PLT’s version of this story, do not expect any recreations of Jack Nicholson or Tom Cruise’s performances, but Sorkin’s script tells a story worth quoting.

‘A FEW GOOD MEN’
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and
Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; May 13-15, 19-22
WHERE: Pensacola Cultural Center, 400 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $10-$25, $2 discount for military, senior citizens and students, May 19 show half price
DETAILS: 432-2042 or pensacolalittletheatre.com