REVIEW: Performing their duty, honorably in ‘A Few Good Men’

219

Snap necks and cash checks.

That’s what Aaron Sorkin’s writing has done to audience’s vertebrae and for studio bank accounts for the past two-and-a-half decades through a trenchant blend of supersonic wit and poignant storytelling.

 

ABOVE: (Left to Right) Aaron Lade as Lt. Jack Ross, Andrew Uhlenhopp as Col. Nathan Jessep and Beau Gentry as Cpl. Jeffrey Howard. RIGHT: Marc Smith as Capt. Matthew A. Markinson. (Courtesy photos)
ABOVE: (Left to Right) Aaron Lade as Lt. Jack Ross, Andrew Uhlenhopp as Col. Nathan Jessep and Beau Gentry as Cpl. Jeffrey Howard. RIGHT: Marc Smith as Capt. Matthew A. Markinson. (Courtesy photos)

That violently snappy maxim also — at least partially — describes what happened at the John Hand Theater in a cranny of East Denver on Sept. 7 during the Spotlight Theater’s gutsy and blistering performance of “A Few Good Men,” the work that helped make Sorkin Hollywood’s next-big-thing in the early 90s. While $18 stubs for a crowd of about 30 don’t exactly stack up to the financial success of the Broadway show or screenplay, the bold acting, biting delivery and engrossing plot are refreshingly rampant in this ambitious production.

Broadway geeks aside, if you were anywhere near a movie theater in 1992, you already know the story thanks to the Cruise-Nicholson-Bacon-Moore award-winning film adaptation: A green Navy attorney with daddy issues defends a couple of Gitmo-based Marines accused of murdering one of their own. And through a Disney-ish series of literal and figurative trials and tribulations he hones his artistry as a lawyer, finally distances himself from his father and takes down a stalwart Marine colonel in the process. You know, such a cliché tale. And while the plot is plenty captivating, the show’s spine is the acerbic script, and the heart is the hot-blooded acting, a notion that, thankfully, the team at Spotlight nails. 

All of the neatly uniformed actors strap on their theatrical track spikes and impressively keep pace with this hotfoot drama, expertly rattling off quintessentially Sorkin lines with tempestuous fervor.

One of the earliest displays of a fittingly acidic delivery comes compliments of the puritanical Joanne Galloway (Miriam BC Tobin) who zings her misogynistic counterpart, protagonist Daniel Kaffee played by Stephen Krusoe, with, “the same fast-food, slick-ass, Persian-bazaar manner with which you seem to handle everything.” It’s not often that a put-down brings goosebumps, but Tobin’s unflinching slash really does the trick. The only woman in the entire show, Tobin makes her presence known in every scene she’s in, nicely laying on the desperation for validation in her role as the legal Sisyphus who just can never seem to win despite her best efforts.

The silver-tongued foil to Tobin, Krusoe impresses as Lt. Kaffee — maybe not quite a Tom Cruise — but still baits the audience by making you hate how much you love his arrogance and silver-spoon attitude. Sorkin has a knack for fleshing out despicably lovable lawyers (Kaffee pretty much being the wordsmith’s practice run for the “West Wing’s” Sam Seaborn), and Krusoe nuzzles right up to that niche role, coming off as the right amount of acrid, but human enough to keep viewers enthralled.

Although Krusoe and Tobin make for a sturdy one-two, the show is commanded — literally and figuratively — by Andrew Uhlenhopp as Col. Nathan Jessep. From his first appearance on the stage to his final, banshee-like courtroom outburst, Uhlenhopp chomps off delectable cuts of meaty dialogue and serves them up perfectly skewered, sautéed and sauced. Knowing that the audience would constantly be comparing him to Wild Jack’s performance in the film, Uhlenhopp had a lot to live up to, but he manages to exceed expectations through expert timing, stage presence and an unblinking delivery — a viper that manages to produce an impressive combination of laughs, oohs and ahs. And while he’s the undeniable thief of the show, Uhlenhopp’s Jessep is an about face from Nicholson’s film version, an odd departure made odder by the fact that it works so wonderfully. Uhlenhopp breaths flames into his snappy delivery, a stark 180 from the blood freezing, forbidding manner that was somewhat expected. However, the flip works so splendidly because whether it’s emotional steam or ice, both extremes tractor beam you into the character, the mercurial punch lines landing just as effectively whether they’re a freezing or boiling point.

Individual performances aside, the cast as a whole delivers on an expertly-woven, topsy-turvy dialogue and consistently hit their caustic quips as if they were playing a three-hour game of bookish whac-a-mole. Sorkin’s style shines most brightly in a courtroom -— “A Few Good Men” and “The Social Network” being prime examples — and Spotlight highlights that to a delightfully witty end. Don’t miss the stellar performances behind this venomous verbal tennis match — though we’d suggest doing some neck exercises beforehand.

“A Few Good Men” 

Runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Sept. 27.

Curtains at 7:30 p.m. on Friday & Saturday, 2:00 p.m. on Sunday

John Hand Theater, 7653 E. 1st Pl., Denver.

Tickets at thisisspotlight.com or 720-880-8727.