Sep. 19, 2012 - Issue #883: Best of Edmonton 2012
A Few Good Men
When Aaron Sorkin was writing A Few Good Men—on napkins in the Hollywood bar he worked at, before it became the script that established his name—the world's perception of war was very different. The Cold War was ending, and questions of relevancy within the military's branches were starting to percolate, as military focus started shifting towards peacekeeping.
"The first thing I thought when I read it was, 'Does this play have to be set in the '80s?'" James MacDonald, directing the Citadel's season-opening production of the script, notes. "And of course it does, because Guantanamo Bay was a completely different place [now] than it was in the '80s.
"I think a lot of things have changed, but in a way they've come full circle," he continues. "I think the difference is, back in the late '80s, the questions about the military were much stronger."
Those questions—the relevancy of the Marines, what it really means to be part of a unit, civilian life versus military life and how morals and justice don't always align between the two—pepper A Few Good Men's central courtroom drama, about two marines charged with the murder of a brother-in-arms, and their military lawyer's attempts to defend them. it's a story of the ambiguity of justice, told in Sorkin's trademark rapid-fire dialogue which, in this script, he was laying out for the first time.
"It's not like a 'good versus evil.' It's actually a 'you decide' story," MacDonald says. "Which I think is what makes it really thrilling. It's not just eat your popcorn and go away; it's something that actually challenges to make you think about what you're watching."
Though it started as a play, the version of A Few Good Men that most people recall is the film, and from that, the moments that have gone on to become part of the general cultural lexicon. One, in particular, delivered by one household name (Jack Nicholson) to another household name (Tom Cruise), seems permanently ingrained. In revisiting the script, how do you handle "You can't handle the truth?"
"It might be the first thing that challenged me," MacDonald laughs. "I would never approach it and say, 'We have to make it unlike the movie.' And I would never approach it and say, 'we have to make it like the movie.' And so you just go back to what you did before. I said to the actors several times, like I did in almost every production I do, I said, 'Treat it like a new play. A new play; it's never been done before. Nobody's ever seen it. Take nothing for granted in the storytelling.' And when it comes down to the way the story is told, it's all done the way we would do it anyway. It's honesty. It's honesty in performance, honestly in impulse. And if that's your honest impulse, it's going to be good. It's going to be right, because we're watching people actually go through something on stage.
"Some people are saying, 'How do you compare it with the movie?' and I think the fact that there was a well-known movie for it was an opportunity for us," he adds. "Because it gives people a basic understanding of the story, and I think that when they come, they'll be thrilled with the fact that A) the way that it's told, which is far more theatrical, obviously, than the movie, but B), that there is a lot more nuance to the story ... the play has a lot more dips and lot more challenge than I think the film does."
Until Sun, Oct 7
Directed by James MacDonald
Citadel Theatre, $35 – $73.50 vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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