Željko Ivanek (seated) and David Schwimmer Scott Landis
One of the truly magnificent conceits of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial – in the book, the play, the TV movie, and the motion picture – is the way in which Captain Queeg is transformed during the course of the tale from villain to victim to tragic hero. Focusing on the revival of Wouk's play, which opened last night on Broadway in a production starring David Schwimmer, Željko Ivanek and Tim Daly, it is fair to say that it is still a unique theatrical document. Courtroom dramas come and go. But rare is the gavel to gavel coverage of a nation's conscience.
We'll assume that you know the plot from the famous movie version that starred Humphrey Bogart as Captain Queeg. The play differs from the movie insofar as all of the action on board ship in the play is related in testimony rather than seeing it happen before our eyes. If the dramatic structure is different, the essential arc of the story is the same: it's a riveting drama about a fictional mutiny during wartime that takes us to a morally complex finale.
Through much of the play Wouk would have us believe that the plot hinges on the guilt or innocence of the man on trial for mutiny, Lt. Maryk (Joe Sikora). But the play has more on its mind than melodrama. It asks us to look at a bigger picture; it asks us to remember who we were fighting and why. It goes against almost every war story ever written in peacetime (The Caine Mutiny was published six years after the end of World War II and the play opened on Broadway nine years after the end of the War). It isn't about the bravery of the citizen soldier; it's about the military career men who were there in 1941 to hold the line. It's about respect. It's about fighting the war, not your superior officers. In that respect, in this post Vietnam era, it's not a particularly popular point of view. But the play is a part of its era. It doesn't have to resonate with today's values; it has to take us back to 1945 so we can relive the values of its own time. That's the hinge upon which this play swings. If you buy into it as a period drama and enter into its world, it's a devastating piece of theater. If it doesn't take you there, all that remains is a courtroom drama with a coda that seems tacked on. But the coda is the true summation of the court case.
We buy it, lock, stock and strawberries. Jerry Zaks' crisp direction creates tension from the opening moments of the play. The courtroom theatrics are fast-paced, sharply defined, and the facts by which we judge the case flow clearly. Željko Ivanek as Captain Queeg gives an enduringly human performance that is as initially smooth as it is ultimately heartbreaking. Schwimmer gives a pained, determined performance, which is exactly what's called for in Lt. Barney Greenwald's conflicted position. Tim Daly gives a brisk and powerful performance as Schwimmer's courtroom nemesis, the Judge Advocate (a formidable opponent, he is no Hamilton Berger). Geoffrey Nauffts is excellent as the insidious Lt. Keefer. Terry Beaver plays the Captain in charge of the court-martial and he gives the proceedings a genuine moral standing. The rest of the supporting cast could hardly be improved upon; it's an exceptionally well-acted production.
In some sense The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is, indeed, about how to safely navigate a typhoon, but that typhoon is simply a metaphor for navigating through a moral storm.
3 Stars: Sore Throats
Laila Robins and Bill Camp Gerry Goodstein/Theatre for a New Audience
If you are a fan of naturalistic plays, stay clear of Sore Throats by Howard Brenton. This is a piece of work produced by Theatre for a New Audience in which its three characters do not, in the least, behave like people you have ever known. We hope. This is not to say that human truths are not revealed, but a good deal of license is taken to get us there.
The play begins after a marriage of twenty years has ended. Jack (Bill Camp) has sought out his ex-wife to demand half the money for their house, which was sold after the divorce. Despite the fact that he gave her the house when they first broke up, Jack needs the money to keep his relationship going with a younger woman. When his ex-wife, Judy (Laila Robins), refuses, he beats her until she signs the contract. This is visceral, violent stuff. But it's also done in a high dramatic fashion with the characters breaking from the action to tell us their feelings in a running commentary. The entrance of an outspoken younger woman, Sally (Meredith Zinner) changes everything (in ways we shall not reveal).
The second act takes place one year later and we see how Judy and Sally are faring, now that they have become roommates. They are on a quest for a certain kind of freedom that goes well beyond bourgeois values. Driven by pain, betrayal, and desire, they are on an existential mission that comes to a head when Jack inevitably returns ...
Say what you will about the play, the three actors give sensational performances. Laila Robins, in particular, gives a fully committed performance of a woman who is emotionally wounded almost beyond repair. Bill Camp's character is, in fact, beyond repair and he gives a deeply frightening performance. Meredith Zinner creates an appealingly sympathetic bohemian with a smart mouth and a very open mind. Pulling it together is Evan Yionoulis' bold direction. In the end, this play won't be to everyone's taste. In our case, Barbara did, indeed, find it tasty, while Scott thought it was wildly overdone but well-acted, given its theatrical extremity. We're still speaking.
[Please note: The Siegel Column is using a 5 star rating system with 5 being its highest rating.]