Theater review: The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

Theater review:  The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

It is true what they say, the sailor may leave the Navy but the Navy will never leave the sailor.  When the presiding officer of this fictional court martial entered from Stage Left and the actor playing the uniformed court orderly sounded off “Atten-HUT” I had to stop myself from popping tall.

The Tulsa Performing Arts Center’s Liddy Doenges Theater was the venue for the American Theatre Company’s production of Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.  Saturday evening was the last performance of the run of this particular production and it was the first time I had seen this play since my fellow Ensigns and I were shown the movie version of it in the military justice class we had in Officer Indoctrination School nearly thirty years ago.  Not to intentionally indulge in trite expressions, however, allow me to say that the more things change the more they stay the same.  This fictitious story of how a professional naval officer allowed his own petty insecurities and imperfections cripple his leadership effectiveness echoed loudly of what we are seeing from our national leadership on a daily basis currently.  In all fairness though, the fictional Lieutenant Commander Queeg had seemingly an adequate amount of training and professional preparation for the position in which he found himself serving, that being in command of a U.S. Navy ship of the line.  If we all think real hard I’m sure most reading this can bring to mind someone now serving in a command position who has no kind of experience or training commensurate with the level of responsibility he now holds.  If only that person were as fictional as LCDR Phillip Francis Queeg.

For readers not familiar with Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel or the movie on which it was based starring the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, and Fred McMurray, it tells the story of a young Princeton educated ensign, Willie Keith, who manages to barely graduate from officer candidate school, gets detailed to an obsolete WWI era destroyer which has been refitted as a minesweeper, has immediate problems with senior authority and after a few months and a change of command tries to start anew with a new skipper only to find the quirks of the new captain extremely peculiar, petty and toeing the line of being pathologic.  The pathology can never be substantiated and officers senior to him, namely the executive officer, Steve Maryk, and the communications officer, Tom Keefer, convince him after several incidents that the commanding officer is incompetent and/or a coward.  Keith happened to be Officer of the Deck at a critical moment during a typhoon when the ship was in eminent danger of foundering and the XO, LT Maryk relieved the CO, LCDR Queeg, on the grounds of mental illness.  The ship and crew managed to survive the typhoon and LT Maryk was subsequently charged with mutiny and court-martialed.


Although the performances delivered by the players of ATC were not nearly as impacting as those of say Bogart or Ferrer, they packed a great enough punch to drive home Wouk’s main points of the story.  In detailing how ordinary men under extraordinary circumstances confront mortal danger, life crises and ethical dilemmas, Jeremy Geiger gave an excellent performance as LT Barney Greenwald, a trial lawyer turned Navy pilot who as counsel for the defense turns what seems to be an open-and-shut case into anything but.  Caleb Stirewalt, the actor portraying LT Stephen Maryk, presented as a bit too boyish to be convincing.  His performance left me wondering if I looked that green as an early 30-something LT.  He was however well supported by cast member Justin Tomlinson whose depiction of the smug and cavalier Tom Keefer buoyed the on stage energy.  Tomlinson’s performance did well to help set up the showdown between the defense counsel and relieved-in-the-heat-of-the-moment skipper, LCDR Queeg, played by actor Dale Sams.  I must give credit where credit is due.  Sams’ performance as the paranoid, neurotic and agitated Queeg on the witness stand was as true to life as Bogart’s.  His display of all the questionable traits and behaviors that led to his character’s breakdown in a moment of crisis and necessitating relief by the XO is what in my opinion made this production a success.

Even though the production lacked enough attention to detail to rate it lower than what most audience members felt it deserved, it was still enjoyable.  I cannot remember any formal proceeding where the presiding officer was attired in dress whites and all other officers of the court were in dress blues as was the case in this performance.  LT Greenwald’s green naval aviator uniform was accurate for the period and all the enlisted members of the cast were appropriated attired in dress blue cracker jacks.  At the end of the night it seemed all who saw it felt they got their money’s worth.  Also, the median age of this audience looked to be well past 70, which actually did not bother me at all.  As I said in my opening statement, the sailor may leave the Navy but the Navy will never leave the sailor.  I wasn’t joking when I restrained myself from snapping to an attitude of attention upon hearing the command “Atten-HUT!”  I believe it is in order to dedicate this production and the work of the playwright who wrote it to the organization the 1954 film was dedicated to:  The United States Navy.

My thanks go out to the American Theatre Company for their efforts.  I rate this production 3 out of 5 stars.

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