An exercise in character acting, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is a stage version of your weekly Law and Order TV programming. Here you’ll find eleven (mostly) fine male actors (supported by a dozen extras, or for all intensive purposes, “props”) giving long dramatic monologues ranging from naïve guilt to estranged guilt to aggravated guilt . . . the list goes on. Given the utter lack of stage direction or scenic dazzle, the entire production focuses on whoever is sitting center stage in the witness chair, and while it’s dull to watch, the script, just over fifty years old, crackles with some really good theatrical moments. (It goes without saying that, given those negatives, it would have to.)
The trial -- and therein the plot (and therein the problem) -- is a simple matter of whether or not a mutiny has occured on the (fictional) U.S.S. Caine. Was Lt. Stephen Maryk (a mostly silent, yet animated, Joe Sikora) within naval law in his usurpation of Lt. Com. Philip Francis Queeq in the midst of a typhoon-generated crisis? Or was he a disgruntled executive officer looking to finally revenge himself upon a stern yet righteous captain? For the first act, the arguments of the prosecution (the slick, yet often irrationally angry Tim Daly) and the defense's cross-examination of the testimony are the plot itself, and it quickly wears thin, especially as the tactics and statements repeat themselves. (The two exceptions, the jumpy Paul David Story [who plays a dimwitted signalman] and the gleeful Brian Reddy [a pompous psychiatrist, as if there could be no other kind] are justifications for the whole trial-as-narrative-device.)
However, in the second act, the defense has opportunity to question the stellar Zeljko Ivanek (Queeq), and at this point, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial becomes rather engaging. Operating as both a spotlight for fine performers and a mouthpiece for playwright Herman Wouk’s views on the military (of the late 1940s, at least), the show picks up steam and plows out of the stagnant waters of the first hour. So what if the good stuff is hastily scripted as a denouement in the second scene (which, true to courtroom style, remains a prosecutorial monologue)? At least it got said. If only Jerry Zaks’ stilted direction didn’t seem to build solely for this moment (and this moment only); if only it didn’t take David Schwimmer two hours as the defense to snap out of his lethargy. (There are other ways to express inner turmoil, Mr. Schwimmer, than through boredom.)
So there's substance at the center of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, and there are some engaging performances along the way. And if you love a good (yet dull) legal battle, it's a thriller too. No Hollywood surprises though, no suspensions of reality. It's just a trial of some talented actors and the audience's patience.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.