November 9 - December 9, 1998, NiteOwl Productions at the Tamarind Theatre presented THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL.

Herman Wouk's novel "The Caine Mutiny" was an exciting, extremely dramatic story; Herman Wouk's play "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" is not. This dusty old play fails to find fresh life under Harry Mastrogeorge's lugubrious direction, which makes it a very long sit.

cain1.jpg (107582 bytes)The eponymous court-martial is a hearing on a charge of mutiny brought by a young lieutenant, Steve Maryk (Steve Monarque), who relieved his captain of command of a Navy ship during a typhoon. Maryk's claim is that Lt. Commander Philip Francis Queeg (James Morrison) lost control of the ship and was incapable of making rational decisions -- that he had, in fact, become increasingly erratic in his behavior during the months of his command leading up to the event in question. The task of Maryk's lawyer, Lt. Barney Greenwald (Scott Burkholder), is to convince the court that Queeg's behavior justified Maryk's course as First Officer in taking command of the Caine.

The staging, by virtue of its nature as a courtroom drama, is necessarily static, but here it is especially uninvolving. While it seems entirely authentic as to costuming and set decoration (Rich Reams) and the playing out of courtroom procedures, at fault are a couple of major casting errors that work against the drama. Burkholder, while a fine actor, is utterly miscast as Greenwald, the intense Jewish lawyer who chooses to defend Maryk. An effort may have been made to subvert any racial stereotyping, but the essential nature of the role, which becomes key in the last scene of the play, demands truer casting. The play was written in less P.C. times, but deracination doesn't hold open the door to authenticity.

Monarque, as the young officer on trial, has the appearance the role demands, but never comes across as bright enough, or brave enough, or spirited enough to make such a grave decision. Likewise, John Stevenson as Lt. Thomas Keefer doesn't convince as a writer with an agenda that involves using the younger First Officer as a pawn in his fiction-to-truth scenario.

But the play comes alive when Morrison is onstage. As the unraveling Queeg, he is mesmerizing, almost painful to watch, a desperate man attempting to maintain dignity and authority in the face of damning evidence and a spirit shocked by too many missions. Marty Brinton scores major points in a realistic portrayal of head of the tribunal, Captain Blakely, an officer's officer, in whom you can see the disappointment and fatigue as Queeg is swallowed in his own ethical maze. Brixton Karnes is a suitably unlikable prosecutor, Judge Advocate John Challee. Dirk Blocker, Frayne Rosanoff, Stan Kirsch, Tony Becker, Craig Thompson, and Rich Morris fit easily into smaller roles, with Jed Robert Rhein nicely presenting the only moment of humor as Signalman Junius Urban.

Synopsized from a review by Madeleine Shaner for Drama-Logue.


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