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Honour and ethics are timeless themes in a new production of A Few Good Men

June 30, 2023

Sorkin’s play is a time capsule of another era, but the new production at the Hamilton Family Theatre Cambridge is an engaging, fresh take on this classic’s search for truth.

A Few Good Men’s director Skye Brandon, with cast members Tyrell Crews, Cailin Stadnyk, Daniel Greenberg and Benedict Campbell.

Two marines are on trial for murdering one of their comrades at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Did they go rogue, or were they following orders? 

Facing the base’s powerful colonel in the courtroom is a young, hotshot lawyer who is determined to uncover the truth.

Judgement is coming to Hamilton Family Theatre Cambridge as Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men convenes from July 5 to July 23.

“In a world where the search for truth is at the forefront in the media and in society, stories like A Few Good Men are more powerful and relevant than ever,” says Alex Mustakas, Artistic Director and CEO of Drayton Entertainment. “We’re excited to share this famous play with our audiences. The production is packed with a talented cast and it’s going to be a highlight of the season.”

While it’s better known as a blockbuster movie, Sorkin specifically wrote A Few Good Men for the stage.

For Saskatchewan-born director Skye Brandon, the play is a thought-provoking cross-examination of honour and ethics, and although it was originally written 34 years ago, he thinks that the topics it discusses are timeless.

“Always, no matter when it’s done, there’s honour and what it really means to be honourable,” he says. “For me, one of the ongoing themes is that you don’t have to be wearing the uniform in order to have honour or to carry that with you in your own personal life.”

Tyrell Crews, who plays lead lawyer Lt. J.G. Daniel A. Kaffee, agrees.

“What does it mean to stand behind your word?” he asks. “What does it mean to stand for something in this life, even when the circumstances get really difficult?”

“I think it’s okay not to know. I think it’s okay to have the wrong idea about that. What do I stand for? If more folks in the world were asking that question today, maybe the news wouldn’t be so scary.”

Moral ambiguity is a frequent theme in Sorkin’s work, and in A Few Good Men, he presents arguments that leave audiences deliberating their own verdicts long after they’ve left the theatre.

Unity is also a timely consideration as the world emerges from the pandemic, Brandon says.

“There’s something about teamwork and working together to achieve a goal that I think just kind of pops in this play a little bit more than it ever did to me before when I read it, as far back as five, six years ago.”

Brandon has performed in Drayton Entertainment productions, but this is the first play that he’s directed for the company.

“I love ensemble work,” he enthuses. “To have a cast of 17 people has been a gift. It just makes it an absolute joy to come into the rehearsal hall and work with the designers and the stage management.”

Among those 17 actors, there are a lot, rather than just a few, good men; Regina’s Cailin Stadnyk plays Kaffee’s co-counsel Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway, the play’s only female character. However, she says there’s a big contrast between the treatment of women in the military and the consideration she’s shown as an artist in an otherwise all-male cast.  

“I would say that it’s actually very different, especially because it takes place during the 80s. That gender difference is very present. You definitely see she has to be a fighter because she needs to be able to stand up to and stand with all of the men that she’s surrounded with. That’s, I think, a very typical plight of women in the military still to this day.”

Conversely, she points out, “In the rehearsal hall, it’s great. I’m working with a bunch of really wonderful men. It’s a very respectful place, and even though the things that are taking place on stage in the play may be a little icky, off stage, I have a wonderful relationship with all of those men. I feel very safe and very respected.”

Stadnyk says that Sorkin was very purposeful in how he wrote Galloway.

“He’s portraying exactly what it would have been like for her in the 80s in the military. I think that he does a very good job of showing how she needs to be strong.”

As evidence of Sorkin’s considerate treatment of the character, she cites her favourite story about the making of the 1992 movie, when one of the producers asked why Galloway and Kaffee didn’t hook up. Sorkin replied, “You know, women have other roles than just having to sleep with Tom Cruise.”

“I think that that actually shows that he himself doesn’t look down on women,” says Stadnyk.

Toronto’s Daniel Greenberg says his character, defence co-counsellor Lt. J.G. Sam Weinberg, is someone who’s driven to stand up for what’s right.

“Sam is a family man, he’s got morals. I think he was maybe an underdog, maybe got pushed around a little bit, so, in this play, you kind of see his journey as a lawyer standing up for the little guys.”

He adds, “This play deals a lot with right and wrong and the different lenses with which anybody views a certain thing. You are there fighting against bullies, people who have one way of thinking that they're not going to necessarily change. It’s, of course, very relevant today, still.”

In this case, the military base’s bully is its condescending commanding officer Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep, played by Montréaler Benedict Campbell. This is his second tour of duty as the iconic character; the first was when A Few Good Men opened at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse in March 2020, but that was halted when a formidable adversary forced a retreat into a global lockdown.

Campbell is enjoying the opportunity to revisit Jessep, albeit with a different approach than three years ago.

“Everything always changes when you’re with a different group of people. How you respond to the people you’re playing with is basically how you end up with the decisions you make, based on how someone else plays something.”

He thinks that the play remains significant, despite its age.

“There’s a slightly different style and writing now than there was back then, and I think that the style of acting has changed as well. The way people are rehearsing it and playing it at the moment is making a more modern, realistic kind of delivery, which works very well for the play and makes it more relevant.”

Underlying all of this is Sorkin’s script, which is what makes A Few Good Men an entertaining visit to the theatre, says Stadnyk.

“It’s just one of the best shows that has ever been written. It’s got so many classic lines that people are going to remember. It’s thrilling, it’s suspenseful, plus the cast is phenomenal. You’re going to be seeing some of the most talented people in the province in the show.”