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Civic Theater Does Well With 'Caine Court-Martial'

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Civic Theater Does Well With ‘Caine Court-Martial’


LI. Stephen Maryk___Russell Aiuto

Lt. Barney Greenwald___AI Douglas

Lt. Cmdr. John Challee___Robert Logan

Capt. Blakley___John Rae

Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg___Jay Michael

Lt. Thomas Keefer___Robert Schorr

Signalman Third Class Junius Urban___Joseph Kelly

Lt. Willis Seward Keith___Doug Chapman

Capt. Randolph Southard___Leslie Whitaker

Dr. Forest Lundeen___Bruce Lawrason

Dr. Bird___Al Phillips

Stenographer___Robert Cottingham

Members of the Court___Richard Mullin, Paul Christman, Terry True

By Mack Woodruff

The Ann Arbor Civic Theater opened its 27th season last night at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater with a production of Herman Wouk's "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.’’ Wouk’s literary feat of parlaying a hypothetical naval mutiny into an immensely popular novel, motion picture and hit play, was in no way discredited by the Civic Theater's well-directed and well-acted performance.

The play, a dramatic restatement of the familiar court-martial scene material from the original novel, concerns the military trial of a destroyer-minesweeper executive officer who, to save his ship, invokes articles 184-186 of Navy Regulations to depose his psychotic commanding officer during a wartime typhoon in the South Pacific.

The unusual theme, the "built-in” and time-proven potential of any courtroom scene as a vehicle for dramatic presentation as well as the natural framework of question and answer, examination and cross-examination which such a scene provides for swift, pointed and economic dialogue, are made to order for the skillful craftsman. Wouk has taken advantage of these gratuitous assets, certainly, but his play is something more than a technical tour de force. Before it has run its course, it has had a great deal to say about courage and duty, patriotism and the strictures of command, about the unnatural stresses which bear upon men at war and the consequent alterations, for better or for worse, which occur in their natures. He has, with the deepest respect, placed the naval system on trial, and with painstaking thoroughness, has stripped the souls of his principals to bone-zero.

Gets Beneath Surface

This preamble is considered necessary if the distinction is to be drawn between the typical and expected amateur production which rides along on the play's "built-in" technical surface—adequate in itself to sustain interest and provide entertainment—and the Civic Theater group's gratifying and for the most part successful effort to get beneath this surface and give expression to the difficult, profound and meaningful problems which the play poses.

Primary credit for the success of the production belongs to Ted Huesel for his thorough and sensitive direction, and to Jay Michael for an outstanding performance as the paranoid Captain Queeg.

To watch Michael Queeg gradually disintegrate from self-assuredness to distracted, slobbering incoherence is a painful experience—like seeing a nerve end slowly laid bare and pierced with a pin. Whatever Mr. Michael's stage background may be, his performance last night was thoroughly professional, controlled and carefully paced to its pathetic climax and the shattered all-aloneness of his final slow and heavy descent from the witness stand.

Al Douglass does a competent job in the very difficult role of Greenwald, the defense attorney, but the understatement which he gives to his reading of the role becomes too pronounced to permit sufficient expression of the smouldering intensity and depth of feeling of the flyer-lawyer who must win his case through a goading persecution of Queeg, a representative of the regular naval system which he, Greenwald, has come to respect deeply.

Handles Role Well

Robert Logan handles his role as Challee, the prosecuting attorney, with creditable skill, but Russell Aiuto’s Maryk, the defendant, is too boyish and fretful and lacks the mature stolidity and outward composure which this character must have to be convincing.

Joseph Kelley is superb in his comic bit as Signalman Urban, and Bruce Lawrason and AI Phillips, as the naval psychiatrists, are quite fine. Also to be commended are John Rae (Captain Blakely), who conducts the court-martial proceedings with credible authority and interestedness, and Leslie Whittaker (Captain Southard) who plays the ship-expert with dour good humor. Doug Chapman is s straightforward Lt. Keith, and Robert Schorr, although convincing, lacks confidence and is somewhat ill at ease in his part as the polished blackguard Keefer.

There is unevenness, then, the quality of the acting in both principal and minor roles, and the director’s skill is readily apparent in the manner in which he has minimized this uneven quality through a careful subordination of the individual roles to the play’s total effect. The production gets forward with precision and verve. Lapses in timing and pacing are negligible and the dialogue is winter-crisp. Heusel’s chief success lies in having gotten the utmost from his actors the interpretation of their parts. One by one the witnesses troop to the stand—the crusty sea captain, the comically callow and dense signalman, the intense young officers, the naval psychiatrists, the neurotic captain—a veritable gallery of maritime eccentrics, each different, each becoming individually and swiftly alive and most important, each contributing to the central effort without distracting from it through excessive domination of the stage.

It’s an altogether enjoyable evening in the theater.