By Lelani Roberts Ott
Michael Hart sat stone-faced in a seat at Muskogee Little Theatre waiting for rehearsal almost as if preparing for his role. He looked like a military man with a buzz haircut and clean-shaven face.
That’s not his normal look. He cut his hair and got rid of facial hair for his part in MLT’s “A Few Good Men.” The intense courtroom drama unfolds at 8 p.m. today, Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; and 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22 and 23 at MLT, D and Cincinnati streets. Tickets are $14, adults; and $10, students, available at Soundworld or one hour prior to the show at the theater. The show is not recommended for children because of the adult language.
Hart portrays Pfc. Louden Downey, who is on trial with Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson, portrayed by Ray Jenkins. The play tells the story of military lawyers at a court martial who uncover a conspiracy while defending their clients — U.S. Marines Downey and Dawson. They are accused of murder. It’s the first time Hart and Jenkins have been on the MLT stage. Hart worked backstage on MLT’s “Sordid Lives.”
MLT guest director Teresa Bringle of Tulsa said she is impressed with the actors in Muskogee and their community spirit. She works with Broken Arrow Community Playhouse.
“The actors are wonderful,” said Bringle, who has worked as a director since she was 17. “It’s the costumes that have been a challenge.”
Producer Chrissie Wagner agreed. MLT rented a set or “costume plot” from Washington, but getting the right sizes on the cast and the correct stars and stripes in the right places has been a challenge. Everyone is helping, including Michael Perez, who portrays Lt. Jonathan Kendrick. Perez’s father was military, so he gave fellow actor Chris Orr, who portrays Lt. Sam Weinburg, tips on how to polish his black shoes to get the shine.
The play, “A Few Good Men” by Aaron Sorkin, was on Broadway in 1989 and adapted into a film in 1992 directed by Rob Reiner starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay.
Even those who haven’t seen the movie or the play are familiar with the signature phrase — “Your can’t handle the truth.”
For Bringle, the play is about people who make choices and the result they have to live with because of them.
“The action moves fluidly,” she said. “There’s something magical about 20 people on stage bringing in the 250 people watching.”
Danny Innis as Cpt. Isaac Whitaker is one of those 20 who is making his stage debut with “A Few Good Men.”
“If it’s too scary, it may be my last time,” he said before rehearsal.
His biggest challenge was memorizing the lines. Innis said Bringle has helped him to build his character to go deeper than just saying words.
“It’s a good evening of entertainment but it’s intense and full of emotions,” Innis said. “It will wake your feelings.”
Hart called the story intriguing with “a lot of layers.”
The storyline has pushed veteran MLT actor Perez. With the more than 30 shows he’s done, this one has been the “toughest” because he’s not that “hard core and disciplined” like the Marine he plays.
“It’s a fun show even as serious as it is,” he said. “It’s going to be a great show, more in-depth than the movie.”
Angelina Villegas-Cummings, who is the only female in the show, said it is important that people realize the play is not like the movie. She portrays Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway.
“She’s straight forward, by the book. She’s always out to prove something,” she said.
This is Villegas-Cummings first time in a serious role with a major speaking part. Many theater-goers know her as a dancer and choreographer, and wife of Tommy Cummings, who portrays Col. Nathan R. Jessup. He’s acted in several shows and directed for MLT.
“I was a dancer when I started, but I want to delve into acting,” she said.
Orr, who is acting in his sixth MLT show, said the storyline is “morally reprehensible.”
Perez said Orr’s line sums it up best:
“To tell the truth, not position it.”