More Than a Few Good Men: A Review of YCDS’s Fall Production
Between his four-time Emmy winning The West Wing, the Oscar winning The Social Network, HBO’s The Newsroom, and two other TV shows, Aaron Sorkin has arguably become the most famous and easily recognizable screenwriter working today. Known for his “walk-and-talk,” wittily quick dialogue, and self-righteous soliloquies, Sorkin’s style is so distinct, that Seth Meyers recently aired a sketch mocking the ubiquity of sketches making fun of these “Sorkinisms.” Despite this usual strong influence Sorkin has as a writer, in the YCDS’s newest production of Sorkin’s A Few Good Men, it is the amazing talent of the actors, and their performances, which stands out and shines most brightly.
The play follows Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Ari Marder), a lawyer for the Navy, and his partners as they defend their clients Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Dani Schwab) and Private First Class Louden Downey (Robby Rubin), against the charge of murdering PFC William Santiago (Binyamin Bixon). Dawson and Downey assert that they had been ordered by their commanding officer to perform a “Code Red” (a disciplinary engagement) on Santiago and therefore shaved his head while gagging him. The procedure went awry, leading to Santiago’s unfortunate death. Their commanding officers assert there had been no such order, and Kaffee attempts to prove his clients’ innocence in the trial, thereby clashing with high ranking military officials.
The first act of the play maintains a lighter, more comedic tone. Lt. Commander Jose Gomez, a hilariously neurotic Latino officer, played to perfection and much laughter, by Joshua Nagel, is paired for the case with Marder’s carefree, laid-back Kaffee. Akiva Kosowsky’s Lt. Sam Weinberg supplies dry sarcastic comments to complete this humorous trio of lawyers, whose interactions delight and entertain throughout the play.
In contrast to the joking nature of the lawyers, the Marine Officers maintain a much more serious tone, though they too deliver some comedic payoffs. Schwab’s Dawson upholds an intense and imposing military presence to match his rigid moral code and belief in the marines. He clashes with, and pushes, the more relaxed Kaffee to realize the value of the marine life and their code: “Unit! Corps! God! Country!” which various Marines memorably scream multiple times. In contrast to Dawson’s commanding presence, Rubin’s Downey presents a more nervous and timid soldier, who simply does as his superior officer, Dawson, commands.
Going further up the chain of command, none of the officers disappoint. David Ben Arie plays Lt. John Kendrick as a Jesus-loving, heavily Southern-accented Marine officer with an affinity for yelling at the top of his lungs, producing a character who is simultaneously intensely terrifying, yet hilarious—a rare feat (though more impressive is how he still had a voice by Thursday night). Moshe Wigder delicately portrays Captain Matthew Markinson, an officer who struggles with the moral decisions he made with the Marines and ends up dramatically committing suicide.
The biggest shoes to fill belong to Jack Turell, portraying Colonel Nathan R. Jessep, iconically played by Jack Nicholson in the film version. Turell rises to the occasion though, and in the first act of the play demonstrates his range of dry wit and imposing terror. In the second act, Turell’s performance—and the play—reaches its climax when Kaffee puts Jessep on the stand, interrogating him about the “code red.” Both Marder and Turell shine in this immensely famous scene, screaming at one another as the tensions rise, until Turell finally shouts “You can’t handle the truth!”
Though this climactic scene belonged to the two leads, the supporting cast did more than their share to build up the tension for this moment and captivate the audience throughout the play. Netanel Shafier’s set, now a staple of YCDS, worked its magic once again, allowing for multiple different locations and fully immersing the audience into this dramatic courtroom. Binyamin Bixon plays Santiago very well, but it is his brief portrayal of the bumbling Corporal Jeffrey Howard where he really shines, almost stealing the show with the humorous lines he brings to new heights with his stutter and innocent Southern accent. Etai Shuchatowitz’s Jack Ross, the lawyer facing off against Kaffee, matches Marder’s intensity and banter throughout the play, portraying a complicated character: the good guy lawyer, working for the bad guys. Avi Gross’s Captain Julius Randolph, the judge for the case, presents a commanding force within the courtroom, even with the imposing presences of Marder and Turell, and sets the tone of the trial.
With this year’s newest production, Director Lin Snider, and Yoni Greenberg, a YCDS veteran acting as stage manager, got the most out of all their actors and with amazing results. The play enthralls and entertains throughout, and its final act artfully conveys the play’s messages about following orders, broken systems, and complicated truths. The play’s great success, and the youth of many of its actors, portends a bright future for YCDS.