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REVIEW: ACT's 'A Few Good Men' thought-provoking, tough

From left, Dan Miller, Marc Bernard and Debbi Holmes rehearse a scene for "A Few Good Men." The Mitchell Area Community Theatre production is at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Although it's often reduced to a single memorable quote by Jack Nicholson in the screen adaptation ("You can't handle the truth!"), "A Few Good Men" by Aaron Sorkin probes deeper into much bigger questions: the heroism of our military men and women, the limits of power, the Marine Code of Honor, and a military mindset that may excuse a crime if it is believed that the ends justify the means.

Director Al Jacklin and his cast and crew have put together a tough, thought-provoking commentary on many contemporary issues. The play, which takes place in 1986, still rings true today for anyone who listens to a nightly newscast about the state of the American military abroad.

Arin Winger returns to the stage as Lt. Daniel Kaffee, the arrogant and inexperienced son of a great Navy lawyer, whose plan to plea-bargain the case is thwarted when he meets Joanne Galloway (Debbi Holmes), another young attorney who believes that the two Marines have been wrongly accused for just following orders. Together, Kaffee and Galloway, along with their co-counsel, the ethical Sam Weinberg (Devin Carey), mount a valiant defense -- even though doing so might end their careers in the process.

Winger delivers a good performance as Kaffee, although he sometimes relies a bit too heavily on some of Tom Cruise's signature mannerisms on display in the film version of the play. Holmes brings a steely edge to Galloway, and her no-nonsense demeanor strengthens her role as the only woman in a male-dominated environment. Carey's humorous take on Weinberg brings some levity to the drama.

Newcomer Ryan Zilla and veteran Jesse Clark deliver strong performances as the two young soldiers charged with the death of another member of their squad during a Code Red hazing incident. I was especially moved by the minimalist performance delivered by Brian Cruz, who plays Pfc. Santiago, the victim, in a series of stylized flashback vignettes.

Daniel Miller as Lt. Col. Nathan Jessup and Kurt Schwarzenbart as Capt. Matthew Markinson also deliver standout performances. Miller's portrayal of Jessup is restrained with the perfect tone of righteous superiority. Schwarzenbart appears in one of the most dramatic scenes when his character can no longer cope with the stress of the cover-up. Jim Hamilton is at his best in the courtroom scene as the pious Lt. Kendrick and Aaron Krumholz ably plays prosecutor Lt. Jack Ross.

The remainder of the male actors all perform admirably. Be mindful of the omnipresent tower guard, a metaphorical reminder that even though we all sit in a safe environment, hoping to be entertained, there are soldiers standing guard across the globe taking chances every day to protect and defend.

The functional, minimalist stage sets the perfect tone. Lighting effects designed by Carey enhance the action and good use is made of every square foot of the stage. Of particular note are the large Marine Corps and Navy seals painted freehand by local artist Stan Sherwood.

The show by the Mitchell Area Community Theatre has performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theater box office or more information is available at 996-9137 or