December 5, 2003





A Sorkin morality play in 'Men'


With his snappy dialogue and rock-ribbed plotting, Aaron Sorkin is one of the better American dramatists of the 1950s. That his career actually began in the late '80s is a minor detail that has not deterred his steady ascent in both prestige and popularity--proving that for all our supposed channel-surfing cynicism, some of us are still suckers for morality plays that end tidily with a verdict and an object lesson.


Sorkin's 1989 play, "A Few Good Men," is so old-fashioned that its scattered F words and references to Yoo-hoos seem almost shockingly anachronistic. More typical is a joke military lawyer Dan Kaffee (a swaggering Joel Berti) springs on a stiff-necked Marine (a haunting Sean McGowan) whom he is defending in a trumped-up court martial: "Did you hear the one about the Japanese fighter pilot who hated jazz? He bombed Pearl Bailey." Naturally the Marine gives him a blank stare.


Similarly grim faces fill the buzz-cut ranks of director David Blanchard's seamlessly earnest new production at Third Stage--not least among them Blanchard's own formidable Donald Pleasance-as-Travis Bickle countenance in the role of Kendrick, a Bible-quoting lieutenant. An impressively martial tone--drumrolls, patriotic songs and call-and-response drills cover scene changes across Danny Cistone's set of camouflage and barbed wire--is sufficiently back-stiffening to prop up our interest, more or less, through the plot's formulaic turns, in which no subtext is unexplained, no motivation unspoken.


If the result plays more like a solid revival of a well-worn classic than the show's L.A. premiere, that's not far off the mark. The cast has no weak links, though Angela Pupello's swish and bite as Kaffee's tightly wound colleague are a bit broad for the room. Dick DeCoit, with a scar that tells us as much about his character as any of his lines, seethes memorably as the piece's unambiguous villain, the grizzled Col. Jessup.


Of course we know how it will all turn out, not because we've seen the movie but because Sorkin's storytelling is as dutiful as any Marine private: He tells us what to expect and then gives it to us. At ease, indeed.

Rob Kendt


"A Few Good Men," Third Stage, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Dec. 20. $15-$20. (818) 842-4755. 2 hours, 40 minutes.