Almost 30 years after it first opened on Broadway, Herman Wouk's dramatization of the court-martial climax of his novel ''The Caine Mutiny'' holds its own admirably with the best of the current season's revivals. The Hartman Theatre production at the Broadway Circle in the Square has been meticulously cast with a first-rate company of players. Under Arthur Sherman's direction, these actors-in-uniform discharge their military and histrionic offices with honorable distinction.
''The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial'' fulfills the precise demands of courtroom drama. With care, cunning, and intermittent humor, the playwright builds the case for the prosecution against Lt. Stephen Maryk (Jay O. Sanders). The ingenious Maryk took over command of the USS Caine from its rightful skipper, Lt. Comdr. Philip Francis Queeg (Michael Moriarty), in the course of a 1944 Pacific typhoon. In the second act, the author unveils the defense strategy calculated to unmask and demolish Queeg as a witness.
Mr. Wouk judiciously develops the psychological as well as the legal conflicts with which ''The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial'' is concerned. There is the strong distaste expressed for the defendant and his case by Jewish lawyer Lt. Barney Greenwald (John Rubinstein). There is the element of anti-Semitism - intimated early on by the presiding judge (Stephen Joyce) and later explosively blurted out by the prosecuting judge advocate (William Atherton), Greenwald's friend from law school days.
Above all there is the gradually revealed personality of Queeg himself. Under direct examination, he is plausibly forthcoming. Youngish Mr. Moriarty plays him with a Southern accent and a casual, Mr. Nice Guy attitude that diminishes as Greenwald's stinging assault verifies Queeg's petty tyrannies, persecution complex, and even cowardice. Ultimately, however, Mr. Moriarty lets us see the flawed human being whose cherished Navy career has been destroyed in order for Maryk to be vindicated.
Mr. Rubinstein portrays Greenwald with brilliant insights as a man motivated by conscience and decency, yet a fiercely determined lawyer prepared to inflict damage and humiliation to win his case. The playing throughout by costar William Atherton, as well as principal and supporting players, is of a high order.
Mr. Sherman ensures that military formalities are well and truly observed. The witnesses enter and exit with stiff salutes and square military turns. Enlivening courtroom cameos are provided by, among others, J. Kenneth Campbell as Maryk's novelist friend and fellow lieutenant on the Caine, Jace Alexander as a befuddled signalman, Brad Sullivan as a no-nonsense Navy four-striper, and Leon B. Stevens and Geoffrey Horne as a pair of earnestly comic psychiatrists.
Sailors prefer a happy ship to a taut ship, but in stage melodrama, tautness is the principal thing. Mr. Sherman knows how to build tension and sustain it, even with such incidental touches as the tapping of the court president's pencil and Queeg's nervous foot stamping. The director cannot quite surmount the problems of the final celebration scene, in which a drunken Greenwald delivers his emotional tribute to the armed-services regulars who protected his mother from the threat of Hitler's soap factories while the United States prepared for World War II.
In other respects, ''The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial'' remains a piece of stagecraft worthy of the talented contributions it has received from all hands at the Circle in the Square. These contributions include John Falabella's austere court-martial room setting, David Murin's military wear, and Richard Nelson's lighting.