There is a special challenge in performing a play known to so many from another medium.
Playwright and revered screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote “A Few Good Men” in 1989, with its Broadway debut taking place later that year. But the moment where the nation was introduced to the story as a whole was in 1992, when Rob Reiner’s film version starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson hit the big screen. It was then that a quote was born:
“You can’t handle the truth!”
According to the American Film Institute, that is the 29th most popular quote in film history. And much like other iconic lines in famous films, the memorable performances of Nicholson, Cruise, Demi Moore and others in the stellar cast made the film memorable, as well as a candidate for many awards, including multiple Oscars.
Tommy Gorrebeeck has a special relationship with the text and the story, having played Daniel Kaffee on stage in his later 20’s. Now a man of 34, Gorrebeeck has a new view of playing the role of the hotshot young attorney, a man whose deceased father looms large in the courtroom he dares not go into. Kaffee is a plea bargainer, a man whose particular skill is not cross examination, but one who encourages a compromising of innocence, reputation be damned.
Gorrebeeck is diving once again into the play via Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, now running through Sunday, Oct. 23rd. “A Few Good Men,” the story of a military hazing gone terribly wrong, puts Kaffee in the middle of a court martial trial where loyalty and country may be more important than justice and truth.
“Kaffee was my first kind of major character, and in a 100 page script, I speak for like 80 pages,” said Gorrebeeck. “I felt as if I was trying to scale a mountain, but I didn’t feel like I was over my head.
“The energy and excitement kind of pushed me through the role, but I now feel like I have a calmer and more tranquil sense of myself as an actor. I think my Kaffee is now grounded in a way I don’t think he was before.”
That grounding comes from some pretty ferocious character study. Gorrebeeck has clearly done his homework on Kaffee, who can easily come across to the audience as a bit aloof, a Harvard-educated attorney who lived a life of privilege afforded to him by his now deceased attorney father. His father was a man who battled racism as a civil rights attorney in his professional life, one who found solace in the courtroom fighting for truth and justice. The younger Kaffee, to put it mildly, is not his father. But Gorrebeeck has made sure his Kaffee is not just a black and white portrayal, but someone who constantly lives in a state of grey.
“The thing about Kaffee is he can come off as a kind of invincible, wise-cracking smart ass, but he is actually very intelligent” said Gorrebeeck. “When Kaffee joined the navy and put his time in there, in a sense he was seeking the approval and acceptance and pride from his father he never really got when his father was living.”
Gorrebeeck, like most others, saw the film version and is well aware of that iconic moment in the story. But for him, the vibrancy of live performance and the excitement of actors portraying a story mere feet from the audience gives theatre a huge advantage in telling such an intense story.
“People come in expecting to see the moment where stakes are that high, and live theatre is so much more vibrant and alive than film,” said Gorrebeeck. “I hope when people come and see the show, no matter how iconic the moment, if I do my job, they get lost in the story we’re telling.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Hillbarn Theatre Company presents “A Few Good Men”
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Josh Marx
Through Oct. 23rd
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd.
Foster City, CA 94404
Tickets range from $45 – $48
For tickets, call (650) 349-6411 or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org