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Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre's 'A Few Good Men' distances itself from iconic movie

The director and star never saw the 1992 hit film, but they see that as an advantage.

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Lt. Jack Ross (Jeff Rondeau) and Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Zachary Lutz) square off in a scene from FMCT's "A Few God Men".
John Lamb / The Forum

MOORHEAD — When “A Few Good Men” was released theatrically in 1992, the movie became an instant hit and a pop culture touchstone thanks to a memorable courtroom showdown between Tom Cruise’s Lt. Daniel Kaffee and Jack Nicholson’s Col. Nathan Jessep, who bellowed out the catchphrase, “You can’t handle the truth.”

Nicholson’s performance earned him an Oscar nomination, one of four the film received, including Best Picture.

The performances were so iconic, it would be hard to re-create them. That’s why Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre’s production of “A Few Good Men” isn’t looking to stage the movie, but rather take its own turn at the military courtroom drama.

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Capt. Isaac Whitaker (Craig Roath) confronts Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway (Emma Beyer) in a scene from FMCT's "A Few Good Men."
John Lamb / The Forum

The production has gone so far to distance itself from the movie that its director and lead actor haven’t even seen the film.

“I’d argue that coming in without an idea of how characters look and talk, I’m not basing an interpretation of Kaffee on Tom Cruise and I’m not bringing Jack Nicholson to the dressing room,” says Director Matthew Dryburgh. “It’s very easy to fall into a trap and do the same thing as someone else.”

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He says the script, written first as a play by celebrated screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing,” “The Social Network”), was enough to draw him in.

Sorkin’s story follows the court case of two U.S. Marines charged with the death of a fellow Marine. They claim they were following orders, but their lawyer, Kaffee, has a reputation for accepting plea bargains. Kaffee takes the case to trial and reveals that following a code of duty and honor isn’t always the right thing.

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Jack Libner (left) and Joe Rosener play soldiers accused of murdering their fellow Marine in FMCT's "A Few Good Men."
John Lamb / The Forum

“I was drawn to the investigation and the themes of justice and how people have different definitions of justice. What is the right thing to do. What is the most just?” Dryburgh explains. “It investigates our ideas of authority and what makes us a good person. Jessep has his own definition of justice. It’s more nuanced.”

The script shows Sorkin’s penchant for fast-paced dialogue and long monologues.

“The play reads very quickly. It’s very fast-paced,” Dryburgh says. “The actors have to be constantly thinking. You’re thinking about what you’re going to say next.”

Daniel Damico plays Jessep and was excited to be in the play because he loves the movie and Sorkin’s writing.

“There’s a certain turn of phrase. The way he uses words is so specific and you have to find a way to make it fit. In a longer section of dialogue, you just have to find your own path through it,” he says.

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Keith Schweigert as Capt. Matthew Markinson in FMCT's "A Few Good Men."
John Lamb / The Forum

In most of his scenes he faces off with lead character Kaffee, played by Zachary Lutz, who never saw the movie, but also fell for Sorkin’s script.

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“The way Sorkin wrote it, there’s a lot of comic scenes breaking up the serious nature of the show,” he says.

Jeff Rondeau plays prosecuting attorney Lt. Jack Ross. While he had seen the movie, he was intrigued that the director hadn’t. He was also looking forward to being in a big ensemble drama.

“I love dramatic pieces that highlight relationships,” he says.

He’s also the only cast member who served in the U.S. Army.

“Getting back into uniform, the stuff associated with that, it just comes right back,” he says, snapping his fingers. “All of the minutiae and details may be lost on people unless you served.”

If you go

What: “A Few Good Men”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26, and next weekend
Where: The Hjemkomst Center, 202 1st Ave. N., Moorhead
Info: Tickets range from $13 to $25; fmct.org or 701-235-6778

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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