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Kavinoky Theatre makes good use of another thoughtful Sorkin play

The Kavinoky Theatre is continuing its new-found love affair with playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin with its first offering of the stage season, his stirring, thought-provoking "A Few Good Men."

This on the heels of the acclaimed interpretation of another fast, intelligent and probing Sorkin work of a few months back, "The Farnsworth Invention." One good play certainly deserves another.

"A Few Good Men" was first produced on Broadway in 1989 and was adapted into a lauded film -- Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore sharing the marquee -- three years later. The story, 23 years old, seems to demand a revival: U.S. Marines accused of torture and worse at Guantanamo Bay, commitment and cover-up, debate and discussion about America losing its "moral compass," the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with audiences given a line of famous dialogue to take home and ponder. Aaron Sorkin always seems to know which of our buttons to push.

Unit. Corps. God. Country. Marine Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson and Pfc. Louden Downey live by those "order of priorities," repeating the mantra even when ordered to initiate "code red" -- an internal disciplinary procedure not found in any manual -- designed to teach a squadmate cooperation.

Pfc. William T. Santiago was the object of the lesson, one that escalated into death. "A Few Good Men" seeks who gave the order for the code, who looked the other way, who blurred right and wrong, who skewed the rules or made their own.

And so we're left with Sorkin's memorable line that, as we learn of waterboarding and other interrogating techniques involving terrorist detainees -- at Guantanamo, "Gitmo," again, still -- questions whether we can indeed "handle the truth."

Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep, the arrogant SOB who rightfully takes the fall in this hard-hitting story, nevertheless raises legitimate issues concerning order, the safety of his men and the preservation of the peace for those of us sleeping comfortably at home.

"A Few Good Men" is a courtroom play, always intriguing, always full of contrasting legal styles and strategies. Navy Lt. Daniel Kaffe, for the defense, is a pup, flip, a lover of plea-deals. A steely young barrister, Joanne Galloway, is attached to the case, clashes with Kaffe and treads in male territory.

It all gets sorted out, not before a succession of rapid-fire, typically quick but complete Sorkin scenes and surprisingly, some murky, hurry-up Perry Mason-moments when cover-up details suddenly fall into place. Intensity gives way to wit often; director Peter Palmisano, whose program notes are masterful and worthy of an op-ed page, apparently feels that the many comic relief minutes don't hurt. It's arguable.

The cast is large and very capable: Paschal Frisina impressively grows from wise-guy to just wise as Kaffe; Kate LoConti is all-business Joanne; Tom Zindle is a bullish Jessep; excellent, too, are Tim Newell, Nick Cocchetto, Robert Rutland, Dan Walker, Patrick Cameron, Joe Wiens -- full of venom and menace -- and Peter Johnson, "Semper Fidelis" personified, solid and steadfast as strong but confused Lance Cpl. Dawson.

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>Theater Review

"A Few Good Men"

Review: 3 1/2 stars

Drama presented at the Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Ave. Through Oct. 11. For information, call 829-7668 or visit www.kavinokytheatre.com.

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