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United States Marine Bore: "A Few Good Men," at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre through July 22 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 18 July 2007 02:44

Angie Keeney, Don Hazen, Jim Pearce, and Don Faust in A Few Good Men Imagine an episode of TV's The West Wing performed at half-speed, and underwater, and you may begin to approximate the experience of the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's opening-night performance of A Few Good Men.

I'm exaggerating, of course. But I'm also trying to indicate just how spectacularly Aaron Sorkin's military courtroom drama has been botched with this production; a work that screams for speed and conviction has been presented with neither. The fact that director Joe DePauw's show runs nearly three hours isn't, in itself, a detriment. Your being able to feel every second of those three hours is.

To be fair, the play isn't exactly Sorkin's finest offering. Written years before the author honed his talents on Sports Night and The West Wing, A Few Good Men - which concerns an upstart Navy lawyer who defends two Marines accused of murder - is a patchy combination of melodrama and wisecracks, too portentous to be a crackling good time, and too smart-alecky to be taken seriously. It does, however, showcase Sorkin's gifts for precisely delineated characters and snappy banter, and features the sort of juicy, barking monologues that performers love to deliver; it isn't a great work, but it's a pretty great work for actors.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have conveyed that to the Richmond Hill cast. At Thursday's presentation, none of the show's 16 ensemble members appeared happy about being there; line after line was read with dutiful, earnest competence (or less), but with little performance relish and almost no sense of what the dialogue meant - as A Few Good Men neared its climax, the production didn't build in intensity so much as the cast merely started shouting their lines.

To take the heat off the actors for a moment, the presentation itself was mostly a mess. Technically, A Few Good Men seems an extraordinarily difficult piece to perform in the Barn, as its continual locale changes and occasional flashbacks require both more space and more specific lighting effects than the venue's theatre-in-the-round allows. And you can sense the fluid style that DePauw is going for here, with actors freely traversing between scenes (and time periods), and new locations marked by subtle lighting cues.

Nicholas Waldbusser, Matt Melcher, and Josh Johnson in A Few Good Men Yet on Thursday, those cues were handled so ineffectively that it was often difficult to gauge where and when the characters were at any given time, and a few goofs were impossible to ignore. During one character's monologue, down-lights shined on both him and a front-row audience member on the opposite side of the stage, so we weren't initially sure which of them we were meant to focus on. And the lighting effect that closed Act I - a backlit tableau of an officer standing guard - was so tardy that what was intended as dramatic punctuation practically turned into its own scene.

Slowness, in truth, was the show's running motif. I had a foreboding as to what we were in for before the dialogue even started, with a doleful recording of "The Halls of Montezuma" signifying Seriousness and Importance and A Three-Hour Running Length right off the bat.

But I wasn't anticipating the deathly sluggishness of the dialogue rhythms themselves, which wound up killing the gags and neutering the drama. Sometimes it seemed that actors had been directed to speak as deliberately as possible - the weighty utterances of Nicholas Waldbusser, as the accused Lance Corporal Harold Dawson, were so consistent that they eventually felt right for the character - but in most cases, the torpor didn't feel intentional. It felt like the actors were in mortifying fear of forgetting their lines.

I have no way of knowing whether cast members were as ill-prepared for opening night as they appeared. But nearly actor for actor, all you could see was the thought behind the readings; even when deliveries felt committed - and they occasionally did - the pauses between the performers' exchanges gave them away. (Everyone here seems to have barely memorized the material.) The cast, none of whom made a true connection with their co-stars, displayed a discomforting lack of confidence; I watched the show with apprehension and dread not because of Sorkin's script, but because I was waiting for a dropped line to stop the production cold.

Let it be said, at least, that Greg Kerr and Don Hazen had relaxed and conversational moments, and Renaud Haymon's delivery of the line "Ten minutes is up" was so naturalistic that it seemed like a mistake. I'd call his reading the most honest sound in this A Few Good Men, except it was topped by the ones coming from the gentleman sitting two rows in front of me. He was snoring.


For tickets, call (309) 944-2244.

Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Patty Baugh-Riechers, July 18, 2007
Wow, you must have seen a different show than I did. I was at this performance last Thursday and I thought the show was well done. It certainly did not deserve the condescending comments that you made. Joe DePauw is a fine director and I felt that his vision for this difficult show was realized through his staging and the lighting. The actors did know their parts. I know this for a fact. You wax on and on about two minor technical problems, but in your review of Joseph, you forgive them for not being able to hear Pharoah due to the mic (Joseph was a great show, too, btw). Why give slack to one group and not another? Your opening paragraph is insulting and ridiculouos. You decided you would not like the show when you heard the Marine Hymn at the beginnig and it wasn't the peppy version you expected. This was played by the Marine Band, incidentally. It is THEIR version. And then you complain about the seriousness of the play. It is a DRAMA. I heard people laughing at the appropriate times, I heard them gasp at the appropriate times, so I know they were paying attention. If it were so boring, I don't think the audience would have noticed these things. I am very disappointed in your snotty review. I thought better of the Reader. I did a couple of reviews for them before I got sick and had to quit. You must be paid by the word because you sure could have trashed this and wasted a lot less space. As a rule, I don't get too upsert about reviews of plays that I have seen, but this was so far off base I had to coment. Oh, and the comment about the man snoring? That is a bald faced lie. It is such a small theatre that I would have heard snoring. What a rude thing to say, though it did make a nice snappy ending for your diatribe. You owe Mr. DePauw, his crew and cast an apology, not for your opinion because you are entitled to that. You owe them an apololgy for being incredibly rude and lying. Shame on you for using your standing in your little paper to show how high and mighty you are. Really sad.
written by anonymous, July 20, 2007
I would just like to state, for the record, that I was indifferent to this performance. I also went on opening night, and I didn't think it was ground-breaking, but I didn't fall asleep. However, the man behind me, DID. Just thought I should point out that Mike is not lying here... I literally heard the woman next to her husband (the man snoring) say, "Hey! Wake up! You started snoring out loud..." and then they both giggled.
written by anonymous, July 20, 2007
Granted, Mr. Schulz' review is strongly worded and perhaps goes into flaws in more length than is necessary. But I would like to note a couple of points with regard to the first poster's comments. First of all, while she acknowledges Schulz is entitled to his opinion, she states opinions of her own as though they are incontrovertible facts. For instance, in claiming that she knows "for a fact" that the actors "did know their parts", that is only her opinion. Schulz rather goes out of his way to say that, while he has no way of knowing whether the actors were underprepared or not, it seemed to him as though they might be. At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter if anyone "knows for sure" the actors know their parts; if they appear insecure onstage, that's what the audience has to judge.

Most importantly, though, I think since the first poster goes out of her way to label Schulz "a liar", she might have at least, in the interest of full disclosure, have pointed out that she herself is married to one of the key crew people who worked on the show, a fellow who was observed by many to sleep through another show presented in Richmond Hill's season earlier this year. And yet, this did not prevent him from congratulating that cast and director on the fine job they'd done. Which simply goes to prove, I think, that it is perfectly possible to sleep through a show in that theater without alerting the entire audience. And it also calls the subject of truth-telling into question. Glass houses, anyone?
written by Anonymous, July 21, 2007
I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion. But as long as the actors had a good time and enjoyed their shows, thats all that matters.
written by d, July 22, 2007
First off, I think we need to realize that a reviewer can really write whatever he wants it's up to us as an audience to decide what to do with it. I feel that the first comment was perhaps a bit too sensitive....what I find more interesting is that the last comment attacks who she is, and and lets be honest creates a glass house just as big as the one the first poster created, but at least the first lady had the fortitude to do it while signing her name, as the other person does so anonymously.......i respect her for that even though I feel she is being a tad too sensitive.....but I cant attack the last person for being anonymously, as I write this anonymously........
written by Anonymously, August 15, 2007
I just have to say I would have been embarrassed to be in the cast of this show. Now I look back and am glad I declined any role in it.

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