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March 21, 2006 > The Caine Mutiny Court Martial - a gem

The Caine Mutiny Court Martial - a gem

by Venkat Raman

What happens if you let a local theater take on a powerful and gripping play by the legendary Herman Wouk that recounts the mutiny on U.S.S. Caine chronicled in his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Caine Mutiny? Well, since it is Broadway West and the director is Paula Chenoweth, you get a dynamite production that keeps you riveted to your seat right to the end.

This courtroom drama is noted for its fastidious adherence to navy procedures at the time - 1945. Since Herman Wouk had been the executive officer of a destroyer-minesweeper during World War II, there is a natural dose of realism in the plot that has the executive officer of U.S.S. Caine, Lt. Stephen Maryk, relieving Lt. Com. Philip Francis Queeg of the command of the ship. For a drama that addresses the serious and intense topic of mutiny aboard a naval vessel during wartime, considerable humor has been sprinkled throughout and with good taste.

The scope of the play is the court martial of Maryk for having engineered a mutiny aboard U.S.S. Caine without authority or cause. Lt. Barney Greenwald reluctantly undertakes the task of defending Maryk and takes the only course that can achieve success. Is Maryk acquitted? Does Greenwald feel satisfied with his performance? You must see the play and find out!

The caliber of cast is uniformly high in this production. From the oozing confidence of the Judge Advocate (prosecutor) John Challee to the insipid monotones of the court stenographer repeating questions, character portrayal is excellent. John Rutski as Maryk, Drew Campbell as Greenwald, Spencer Stevenson as Challee, and Ray Medved as Judge Blakely provided solid performances. Rutski nicely brought out Maryk's misgivings about Greenwald's ability to defend his case as well as his absolute conviction of having been justified in the takeover of U.S.S. Caine. Stevenson was the consummate prosecutor - laying out an apparently unshakable case for the prosecution, frequent objections to the exploits of the defense, and a final summation that is an incredulous observation of lack of a credible defense.

Jim Coryelle gave a touching performance of Commander Queeg. His casual exhibition of wisdom befitting a navy veteran, discomfort over the grilling on what he clearly considered small issues and the overall portrayal of a vulnerable character were awe-inspiring. Ray Medved did an admirable job as Captain Blakely, a stern but just conductor of the proceedings. Greg Small stole the hearts of the audience with his able rendition of comic relief intertwined with serious matter in two disparate roles - Signalman Urban as well as Dr. Bird.

Drew Campbell perhaps had the most difficult task of all. As Greenwald, he needed to portray conflicting emotions and a ruthless fulfillment of duty. He rose to the occasion admirably. In a few instances, it appeared that the script was deficient and could have been a little more convincing. Nevertheless, his overall performance was compelling and commendable.

Due to the nature of the topic and the era when it happened, this is an all-male cast. While the material is not inherently inappropriate for youngsters, children below 13 may find the play hard to follow due to the importance of dialog. Kudos to Paula Chenoweth for an excellent casting job. The set is simple but very appropriate. Costumes are perfect and military decorum very proper. Every spoken line was perfectly audible and crystal clear in enunciation and diction. The lighting was flawless as well.

Overheard during intermission was a comment: "I have seen this play before but it wasn't this good!" I can understand the motivation behind that comment. Thank you Broadway West for another good one!

The Caine Mutiny Court Martial will run till April 15. Shows are at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (matinees at 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 26, April 2 and 9). Broadway West Theatre Company 4000-B Bay St., Fremont. (510) 683-9218. $20 General, $15 Seniors and Students; all tickets $15 on Thursdays.

 
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