Drayton Entertainment’s strong but imperfect production of Aaron Sorkin’s original theatrical hit A Few Good Men is up next in our Ontario Theatre Tour. Presented at the Hamilton Family Theatre in Cambridge, the production offers the opportunity for theatre-goers outside of Ontario’s usual hubs to see some big names in a comfortable local theatre for only $55 a ticket ($45 on discount dates, $34 for under 20).


Drayton has developed a reputation in recent years for being a major employer of real talent and for bringing reliably well-produced theatre to some of Ontario’s more overlooked corners with six theatres in six different small cities and towns. Their programming tends to run, understandably, in a musical and comedy direction, making the naval courtroom drama A Few Good Men a somewhat atypical offering for their audiences, though its famous author and beloved film adaptation keep it a populist choice. In fact, one of the production (and any production)’s biggest hurdles is differentiating itself from said iconic film. How does one bellow “you can’t handle the truth” without making it a Jack Nicholson impression?


Luckily Drayton somehow managed to lure one of Canada’s most celebrated actors to the role and only in the script’s most inescapably familiar lines does Benedict Campbell not fully manage to differentiate himself within the confines of a pretty well defined character. Campbell’s natural charisma and gravitas create an effortless air of authoritarian terror, allowing him to add unexpected playfulness to Jessep’s early scenes which makes his portrayal both distinct and somehow even scarier. He’s bolstered excellently by Alex Furber’s sweet-faced and dead-eyed Kendrick (a horrifying combination) who perfectly foils Sorkin’s chatterboxes. The whiplash of his restraint against their momentum is the production’s most memorable effect.


The rest of the cast is outmatched by the marine officers. Cailin Stadnyk lacks the fire essential to drive Jo’s sisyphean persistence and, conversely, Amos Crawley fails to capture the essential neutrality of Jack Ross’ ethical antagonism. The mutual respect and friendship between him and Tyrell Crews’ Kaffee is also under represented. The cast of characters is large but full of bit parts and this production isn’t keen on doubling so much of the ensemble is left with little to do. Though referenced in the text, the omnipresence of a court reporter seems unnecessary and the accompanying clicking of keys is an odd distraction. David Andrew Reid fares well in the difficult part of accused murderer Dawson though his co-defendant Downey (Drew Moore) struggles to make an impact in a quiet role. Ultimately, though, the buck stops wth Kaffee and, while Crews does find a bit of a rhythm when deep in the lawyer-speak, his take lacks grounding with many of his early scenes pitched effortfully like he’s in a musical comedy.


Multiple versions of the A Few Good Men script exist in the world and this iteration finds a good middle ground that’s evolved from the rough edges of the original (which went a bit too hard on Jessep’s misogyny, among other irksome growing pains) but remains intriguingly distinct from the film version in both content (some line changes, a different backstory for Kaffee’s father) and structure. The stage version is far less linear than the film, a challenge director Skye Brandon aptly tackles without overthinking, making use of swift transitions and great help from Sean Mulcahy’s set design which is impressive in scale and realism while remaining usefully structured for both versatility and sightlines. Drayton’s investment in the production is evident both in the expansiveness of the set and the detail of Jennifer Wonnacott’s costumes.


Though some of the principal casting left me with questions, the overall execution of this very difficult play speaks well of Drayton and its presence in the Cambridge cultural landscape is a credit to the company’s mandate of expanding our expectations of where world class theatre is accessible in Ontario.