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Wednesday, October 28,2009

Tried and true

Riverwalk’s “Few Good Men” dynamic courtroom drama

by Tom Helma
It takes more than a little chutzpah for a community theater to stage a play that was made into a Hollywood blockbuster complete with superstar actors and a multimillion-dollar budget. Riverwalk Theatre’s production of “A Few Good Men” requires the efforts of one extraordinarily good woman, director Lee Helder, along with a cast and crew of more than 30 equally good men and women to produce and perform this intensely dramatic play.

Helder is aided in his effort by a multi-level stage design by the late Bob Gras, military costuming by naval officer Ken Beachler and a cast of many men. In the midst of this male-focused play is one other good woman, Emily Aslakson- Himebaugh, in the key role of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway.



Aslakson-Himebaugh and Joseph Baumann, as Navy Lt. J. G. Daniel A. Kaffee, are very good in their respective leading roles. Aslakson-Himebaugh presents a humorless rookie lawyer, while Baumann (who is a lawyer by profession) plays life for laughs.


This play also provides meaty parts for a handful of supporting and featured actors, all of whom rise to the occasion with tight, dynamic performances.


Chief among them is Scott Larson, as Marine Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson, who is accused of murdering a fellow Marine. Larson is iron-spine crisp and tungsten-steel tough as this soldier determined to preserve his sense of honor at all costs. Contrasting Larson’s role is Evan Pinsonnault, as Kaffee’s “second chair” law yer, Navy Lt. J.G. Sam Weinberg, a cynical junior officer who is in the military for all the wrong reasons. Pinsonnault effortlessly glides through this role, all slouch and shrug, seemingly indifferent to the seriousness of the crime presented, until he gets caught up in the underlying cover-up behind the murder charge. Was this merely a case of hazing gone awry or an order from the top to “code red” the victim?


Not to be outdone, Joe Dickson (who also designed the sound for this play) takes the small, key part of Marine Lt. Jack Ross and plays it to the hilt, looking and acting more like a real lawyer than Bauman.


It is often said that there are never small roles, only small actors; in this play, small roles played well prevail. Matt Szymanski, as Marine Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick, is superb; Martin Underhill, as presiding judge Navy Capt. Julius Alexander Randolph, is restrained and serious; Charles Sartorius, as the military base physician, is world-weary and emotionally intense; and Sineh Wurie, Darrin Fowler, Ralph Maldonado and Todd McKenzie all add unique, character-driven texture and verisimilitude to the action on stage.


Dave Dunckel is at the center of this play, as the loyaltyobsessed Marine Col. Nathan Jessup. Jessup does not suffer fools gladly, and there’s no room in his worldview for technicalities of law or democratic decision-making. While Dunckel doesn’t quite fill the stage in the menacing manner portrayed on screen by Jack Nicholson, there is sufficient sleazy character development and breakdown to make this a signature performance.


“A Few Good Men” starts slow, but it rapidly builds, ending with a sizzling court scene and ambivalent resolution. Audience members are left with complex legal and moral issues to ponder. Helder displays a penchant for selecting weighty material, and, as director, she delivers an intellectually satisfying production.


‘A Few Good Men’


By
Aaron Sorkin Through Nov. 1 7 p.m. Thursday 8 p.m. Friday &
Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday Riverwalk Theatre, 228 Museum Drive, Lansing
$8-$14 (517) 482-5700 www.riverwalktheatre.com


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