Intimate Dayton Playhouse production is suitably lean and mean


Col. Nathan Jessep (B. Lee Drew) swears to tell the truth. (Bailiff played by Ron Maurer)

By Allyson B. Crawford | Photos By Art Fabian

“What I love about community theatre is that it is local,” explains Dayton theatre regular Jennifer Lockwood. “You may find a neighbor or someone you go to church with is involved. It’s a chance to see the script that isn’t performed often locally and to experience this story in a way you just can’t on screen.”

The Dayton Playhouse is currently in the middle of A Few Good Men. Before the film became a box office smash, A Few Good Men was a play written by Aaron Sorkin. The show debuted on Broadway in 1989 and Sorkin adapted his work into a screenplay for the 1992 film. The film starred Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore, and was directed by Rob Reiner.

A Few Good Men tells the story of military lawyers during a court-martial who uncover corruption and conspiracy at high ranks of the Marines. Two Marines are accused of murdering a fellow Marine in their unit during a hazing incident, called a “code red.” The play takes place in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Washington, D.C.

Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson and Pfc. Louden Downey are accused of killing Pfc. William Santiago. A weakling and “below average” Marine, Santiago often fell behind while running and during other training exercises. While publicly declaring code reds off limits, Colonel Nathan Jessep gave the highest order to haze Santiago “to save other lives.” In the end, Santiago dies after being bound and gagged, with a sock in his mouth.

The Dayton Playhouse production is directed by Lockwood. The stripped down production makes expert use of limited cast, volunteers and money to transport Miami Valley viewers to a hot military base in Cuba and to the arguing military lawyers in our nation’s capital.

Lockwood began script work and production planning last summer. Auditions were held in January and the cast had about six weeks to prepare, often rehearsing four or five evenings each week.

“It’s very theatrical. A Few Good Men is clearly written for the stage,” explains Lockwood, who is a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s work. “The way the scenes flow from one to the other and even overlap. The story isn’t told in a straight line. We flash back and forward a little bit more than the movie version.”

Of course, live theatre gives the audience a chance to experience natural human emotion in real time. Dayton Playhouse is intimate, so patrons are very close to the actors on stage. This is helpful when digesting emotional productions, especially ones dealing with complex themes like in A Few Good Men.

There are standout actors, too. B. Lee Drew is completely convincing in his role as Colonel Nathan Jessep. He looks and acts like a grizzled Marine officer, complete with swagger and a foul mouth. David Thomas is an eager star in his role of Lt. Daniel Kaffee. The hotshot young attorney is forced into defending a case he didn’t want and eventually rises to the occasion. Gwendolyn Gay does a heavy lift as the only female in the entire production. Her portrayal of Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway is the perfect foil to Kaffee. The two blend nicely together on stage and it is easy to forget that everyone is a volunteer, simply doing the show for their love of acting and words.

Lockwood agrees and believes the strength of the script, mixed with the honesty of the acting helps elevate the production into a must-see.

“The immediacy of having the people right in front of you is a very different. Over the years I’ve loved the movie. It’s a favorite of mine. But reading the script gave me a completely different feel for it. The characters are the same. Most situations are the same. There are a few tiny differences [in our production] but it feels different having them right in front of you. You’re observing them the way you want to instead of where the camera tells you to look.”

When A Few Good Men opened last Friday, The Dayton Playhouse itself also debuted new paint and carpeting as the theatre is currently undergoing a facelift to get ready for its diamond jubilee season starting in the fall. The theatre board is also selling seat dedications. For a $100 donation, patrons may have their name affixed to new seats that will be installed during the summer.

A Few Good Men will be staged this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee. The Dayton Playhouse is located at 1301 E. Siebenthaler Avenue in Dayton, 937-424-8477. Tickets are available at the Dayton Playhouse box office or online at daytonplayhouse.org. Individual tickets are $18 for adults and discounts are available.

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About Allyson B. Crawford

View all posts by Allyson B. Crawford
Allyson B. Crawford lives in Kettering and writes about ’80s metal bands on her daily blog bringbackglam.com. You can usually find her at all sorts of metal shows around Ohio and across the country. Allyson can be reached at AllysonCrawford@DaytonCityPaper.com

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