Bondo Wyszpolski

Arrested and tried in Hermosa Beach

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Awaiting the verdict. L-r, Drew Rogers as Daniel Kaffee, Paul Kennedy, Jr., as Harold Dawson, John Enick as Louden Downey, and Marquel Skinner as Jo Anne Galloway. Tucked in back: Chris Clonts as Sam Weinberg. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

…and a bad apple or two

“A Few Good Men” opens Saturday at Surf City Theatre in Hermosa

by Bondo Wyszpolski

Before it was released as a film in 1992, “A Few Good Men” was a play by Aaron Sorkin, perhaps the first important work in what has been a noteworthy career as a writer not only for the stage but for television and the movies.

For the past month or two, Nicole Parsons has been rehearsing the cast of “A Few Good Men,” which she is directing for Surf City Theatre. The play opens Saturday for three weekends at the Second Story Theatre in Hermosa Beach.

STANDING AT ATTENTION

Writers of plays and television scripts are usually invisible to the general public, but apparently that’s far from being the case here:

“I am obsessed with Aaron Sorkin,” Parsons says, during a break in rehearsals. “I grew up watching ‘The West Wing.’ I quote ‘The West Wing’ so much that my (history) students finally told me that I was not allowed to talk about ‘The West Wing’ anymore.”

Now, as for “A Few Good Men”…

“This is the only thing by Aaron Sorkin that I haven’t seen 20 times,” Parsons admits. “Every time it was on TV it had already started, and you can’t come in during the middle of this movie. So, I’ve never seen it. I was pure coming to the script.”

This writer is not well versed in the subtle differences between the stage and screen versions of “A Few Good Men,” but basically this courtroom drama follows military lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise in the film) as he undertakes the defense of two U.S. Marines accused of severely beating a fellow Marine at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. This “Code Red” incident (referring to a cardiopulmonary arrest) was the result of retaliatory hazing for the latter’s informing on another Marine’s unprofessional behavior. But, but, but… did the order to commit the assault come from someone higher up in the chain of command? At Lt. Commander Jo Anne Galloway’s insistence, Kaffee calls up Colonel Nathan R. Jessup to testify.

In the film, Jessup was played by Jack Nicholson. Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, and Kiefer Sutherland also had featured roles. And Sorkin, by the way, went on to write scripts for “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Moneyball,” “Steve Jobs,” and (for which he received an Oscar) “The Social Network.” His directorial debut, “Molly’s Game,” is currently creating a buzz on the festival circuit.

“One of the other board members (of Surf City Theatre) was also a huge Aaron Sorkin fan,” Parsons continues, “and when we were looking for scripts he mentioned that this was a Broadway play before it was a movie.” He then brought in the script and loaned it to her.

“At first I was a little afraid of it,” Parsons confesses, “because it’s a very complicated script. There’s a lot of jumping back and forth very quickly.” However, undaunted, sort of, “I was actually one of the deciding votes for ‘Yes, we can handle this play’ and ‘We should do this play.’ And the caveat was: ‘We’ll do it, but I’ll have to direct it.’”

Director Nicole Parsons, center, working with her actors. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

As the starting date for rehearsals began, Parsons realized something: “Oh my god we’re going to need a military consultant. All the people I know are back in Chicago.

“Then our stage manager Megan (White), who I went to high school with and was friends with all through high school and college, said: Well, I don’t know if you remember, but I was in ROTC and I can get Colonel (Ken) Falasco to come be our military consultant.

“He not only is a retired Lieutenant Colonel,” Parsons says of Falasco, “he did theater in college and used to stage manage. When he talks to the cast, he’s not just talking about how you would stand at attention. So he has been an amazing find.”

Falasco was in the Marines, on active duty, for 22 years. So what was he watching for as he observed the rehearsals for “A Few Good Men”?

“What I’m looking for is to change some of the civilian discipline into a Marine discipline,” he says. “A Marine would salute in a certain way whereas sometimes (the actors) might do it with the wrong hand, or they might be real lazy with their salute. So, it’s just little corrections like that to make it authentic.”

UP THROUGH THE RANKS

As the director of Surf City’s newest production, Nicole Parsons didn’t just appear out of nowhere. She attended Redondo Union High (where she met her stage manager Megan White and Ken Falasco, who was Dean of Students at the time). Currently she teaches theater (and history) at South High School in Torrance, and this is her fourth year there.

So how did she get corralled into working with Surf City?

“My first show was ‘A Christmas Carol,’’ Parsons replies, “because the director, Lawrence Moreno, whom I knew from doing theater at El Camino, needed a stage manager. So he called me in and I stage-managed that show. Then Lisa (Lisa Leonard, the company’s executive producer) called me back for another show. Then Lisa called me back to be on the board. And I just never left.”

Cast and crew of “A Few Good Men.” Director Nicole Parsons is in the front row, third from left; Ken Falasco, seated, is on the far left. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

“A Few Good Men” has a cast of 15. That’s a lot of people to keep an eye on.

“It can be,” she says, “but when you’ve worked with high school theater… I have usually 20 actors, another 15 tech, two or three designers helping with stuff, and then whatever kid showed up that day who wants to help paint the set. So the chaos does not faze me at all. It’s standard operating procedure.”

One of the interesting facts about the cast of “A Few Good Men” is that all of the actors are new to the company. That’s rather remarkable for a local theater group that often draws from talent in the immediate area. But in this case it’s all new faces, and that can be refreshing for the theatergoer.

“If you want to be in an Aaron Sorkin play,” Parsons says by way of an explanation, “you need to be able to handle it. The people who would be afraid of that all got scared away, and we got left with the best of the best.”
A Few Good Men opens Saturday at the Second Story Theatre, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. Performances, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., plus Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Through Oct. 1. Tickets, $28. Call (424) 241-8040, email surfcitytheatre@gmail.com, or go to surfcitytheatre.com. ER

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