Murder in the Marines Makes an Effective, If Standard, Whodunit


A FEW GOOD MEN Play by Aaron Sorkin. Directed by Don Scardino. Starring Tom Hulce. At the Music Box. `A FEW GOOD MEN'' incorporates more than a few of the traditional ploys that enliven the well-made courtroom drama. In his Broadway debut, playwright Aaron Sorkin proves his mastery of the essentials. As a result, his new play honors the genre it perpetuates.

Alert to the changing times, Mr. Sorkin introduces a female senior naval officer as a central figure in his otherwise all-male environment. Along with her committed passion for justice, Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway (Megan Gallagher) proves her ability to handle the insulting behavior of officers who are by no means always gentlemen.

Assigned as a naval investigator in a Marine Corps homicide case, the attractive Galloway soon becomes an important member of the troika defense team headed by Lt. J.G. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Hulce). The son of a famous attorney, Kaffee initially approaches the defense of the two indicted marines with an indifference that infuriates his determined superior officer.

The defendants are Marine Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson (Victor Love) and Pfc. Louden Downey (Michael Dolan). The enlisted men have been charged in connection with the death of Pfc. William Santiago (Arnold Molina), on whom they had inflicted a ``Code Red'' punishment (explained as a disciplinary action by fellow marines against one who has ``fallen out of line''). Molina had made 12 requests to be transferred and had finally written a letter of complaint to his senator - viewed as an act of treason by his superiors.

The action of ``A Few Good Men'' moves swiftly back and forth between the Washington court-martial and the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. There, the marines stand guard over an enclave donated by Battista in 1934, which Castro has sought unsuccessfully to have returned.

The political impasse serves Mr. Sorkin solely as background. His concern is the Dawson-Downey court-martial and the role that gung-ho Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep (Stephen Lang) may have played in Molina's death.

IN the tradition of such dramas, ``A Few Good Men'' moves briskly, involves a succession of sharp character vignettes and courtroom clashes, uses comedy to relieve tensions, and reaches an increasingly inevitable conclusion. Besides Mr. Hulce's deceptively casual Kaffee, Miss Gallagher's unflappable Galloway, and Mr. Lang's aggressive superpatriot Jessep, the fine cast, brilliantly directed by Don Scardino, includes Mark Nelson, Edmond Genet, Robert Hogan, Ted Marcoux, and Paul Butler.

Though he never speaks a word, Ron Ostrow's Sentry, perched high above the unadorned Guantanamo-Washington settings, provides a symbolic reminder of the Marine Corps motto - ``Code, corps, God, and country'' - which supplies the psychological framework for the action.

The starkly functional setting was designed by Ben Edwards, with uniforms for all ranks by David C. Woolard and lighting by Thomas R. Skelton.

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