The current production at the Hill Country Community Theatre is A Few Good Men, by Aaron Sorkin.

As the quintessence of the play is rooted in morality, I am going to begin this review with a look at that very thing. A debate on the roots of morality was held at the University of Texas in Austin on April 17. Philosophy professor Ben Bayer identified four virtues associated with morality: rationality, honesty, integrity and justice. All four are centre stage in the play as well, as we are confronted with heroes and ati-heroes..

All four virtues combine to create in a person’s mind a knowledge of the truth. “This account of moral truth makes no appeal to divine commandments. It does not say that a dissident’s courage is virtuous because society approves of courage. On the contrary, it says that these heroes may be virtuous even when society opposes them. They are committed to the truth regardless of how it feels. And their virtue consists in the fact that rationally identifying the facts is efficacious for identifying the values we need to live.”

The meaning of the entire play is actually encapsulated in that statement by Dr. Bayer. For those who have not seen the play, or the rather famous film starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, I am not going to give away the plot detail. Rather I will highlight how the lives of certain characters can be understood in term of how Dr. Bayer related the four virtues to morality.

Would you want a wise-cracking lawyer to defend you in a murder trial? That’s what a couple of young Marines get here, as they unwittingly get cast as courageous dissidents (Brody Herman and Brandon Gonzalez). They are being charged with the murder of a fellow Marine; the attorney they have been assigned is Lt. Daniel Kaffee, played here by Jeff Jeffers, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Cruise. He is the one who rationally identifies facts, and identifies the values we (and the Marines) need to live by. Superb acting, as Jeffers bears the burden of advancing this complex plot.

His great protagonist is Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep. William Noyer gives a performance worthy of a Tony Award; his 29 years in the military stands him in good stead here. As head of the American presence at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, no one doubts he is in charge. He represents the ‘society’ of the Marines, and he does whatever is necessary to maintain order, even if it means opposing his own men. His right-hand-man is Lt. Kendrick (played with spine-chilling enthusiasm by J.D. Cole), who makes constant appeal to divine commandments. Together, Jessep and Kendrick are toxic. And finally, there is Capt. Markinson (Doug Hart), whose commitment to the truth is boundless. Hart offers just the right counterweight to Jessep and Kendrick, making his acting all the more believable.

I interviewed the director, Hayli Isbell, about the special challenges posed by this production. “They were definitely about making it my own: taking something that is so well known, so male-dominated and putting a different twist on it. I changed two characters to women, the Judge and Corporal Howard, to bring in a whole new light. I really just wanted to tell the story from a woman’s point of view. It’s kind of a more intimate and emotional take on it.”

Isbell says there are no former Marines in the show, “but we do have some former Army and Navy personnel. They really helped with the show, making sure everything was accurate. We had a mini bootcamp to teach everyone how they would stand, walk and salute. I reached out to a few friends of mine who served in the Marines to make sure I was giving it justice.” What was the key insight they imparted, I asked? “I was leaning to making it very sharp and militant, but they actually brought me out of that a little bit. They said no, some of it is actually really personal. They wouldn’t be so militant: in that moment, it’s OK to actually break that.” 

A cauldron that mixes chicanery, suicide, coercion, conspiracy and perjury, A Few Good Men is an extremely fine production at HCCT, which I highly recommend.

A Few Good Men runs thru Apr 21, 2024.

For tickets:

l to r: Christian Faircloth, Doug Hart, William Noyer, Jeff Jeffers (bowing). Photo by C Cunningham

By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.