Spotlighters production achieves more than a few good minutes

March 22, 1995|By Jennifer Brennan | Jennifer Brennan,Contributing Writer

They are the defenders of the nation. The chosen. The proud. The few.

They are the U.S. Marines, and two of them are on trial for the murder of fellow Marine William Santiago.

Daniel Kaffee (Tim Munn) is the hotheaded young Navy lawyer appointed to represent them in Aaron Sorkin's "A Few Good Men," an intense courtroom drama about vigilante justice gone awry, playing through April 9 at the Spotlighters Theatre.

Two Marines, played by Philip Restivo and Paul Campbell, admit to binding Santiago with duct tape and stuffing his mouth with a rag during a Code Red -- the Marine version of fraternity hazing, a punishment inflicted by fellow corpsmen for disloyalty to the Marine Code. But the circumstances surrounding Santiago's death are still cloudy; there's the chance of a military cover-up, a questionable autopsy and a set of phony transfer papers.

Kaffee must solve the puzzle before it's too late, and he swears he'll do it. Kaffee is arrogant, a top Harvard Law School graduate known for his "fast-food" processing of courtroom cases; he's most comfortable with a Yahoo chocolate drink in one hand and a softball bat in the other. Munn plays the part with appropriate swagger and an air of flippancy slowly turned to genuine concern, thanks to the prodding of his assistant counsel Joanne Galloway (Heather Osborne), a high-strung naval officer with a passion for justice.

A stickler for details, Galloway's earned herself the nickname "Ebenezer," but she's more a "Ghost of Christmas Past," surfacing as Kaffee's conscience and taunting him with the memory of his late father, a brilliant Navy lawyer dead seven years.

Sam Weinberg, portrayed by Jon Lipitz, is the mediator between the two, a somewhat goofy naval officer who proves himself more than just Kaffee's sidekick with some surprisingly astute observations.

There's chemistry between Munn and Osborne as they fire insults back and forth, but it's the courtroom match between Munn's Kaffee and a witness Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep (Chris Dickerson) that really heats the drama up. Jessep is a sarcastic gum ball-popping senior officer, a bully who thinks he's above the law, and Dickerson delivers his lines with Clint Eastwood grittiness.

A stony-faced Bob Babcock plays an equally unlikable character, Kendrick, the lieutenant who orders the Code Red and who runs his life by a fanatical allegiance to the St. James Bible and the Marine Code. That Jessep and Kendrick are hard characters to warm up to shows that Dickerson and Babcock have pulled off the parts.

The play moves from past to present, from the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Washington, gathering momentum.

Director Barry Feinstein manages to maintain that momentum -- and a fluidity between scenes -- making use of every inch of the tiny Spotlighters stage and earning top honors for his production of "A Few Good Men."

'A Few Good Men'

Where: Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $8 and $9

Call: (410) 752-1225

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