When Theatre and Drama senior Adam Miller-Batteau decided to direct Aaron Sorkin’s “A Few Good Men” through Basement Arts, he knew audience members would come with a host of preconceptions. After all, its classic courtroom scene is an integral part of the American pop-culture cannon. It was the film that made America fall in love with Tom Cruise, fear Jack Nicholson and dub Demi Moore the hottest marine in Hollywood. Not an easy act to follow.

“A Few Good Men” follows the trial of two marines accused of murdering a fellow soldier at Guantanamo Bay prison, and the Navy lawyer who subsequently dares to confront a tightly woven web of military cover-ups. It makes for a crowd-pleasing drama, complete with the intricate character development and rapid-fire dialogue that later made Sorkin one of the most sought-after writers in television.

Miller-Batteau and his cast are actually working with the original Broadway script, which differs slightly from the screenplay that launched Sorkin’s career. Ironically, the classic “You can’t handle the truth!” line is not the climatic moment in the original Broadway script, but embedded within a lengthy monologue instead – an issue that Miller-Batteau had to take into consideration. “You have to satisfy audience expectations,” he said. “I didn’t want people to leave and think: ‘That was great, but what happened to my favorite line?'” Miller-Batteau ultimately acquiesced to the anticipated audience demands and decided to switch a few lines around so as not to disappoint fans.

The most interesting twist about Miller-Batteau’s rehearsal process was his direct contact with writer Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin, best known as the mastermind behind shows like “Sports Night” and “The West Wing,” was actually a musical theater student at Syracuse University. Sorkin’s theatre professor at the time was current University Musical Theatre Department Chair Brent Wagner, who agreed to field some questions from Miller-Batteau to Sorkin via email. Sorkin delivered directing advice, script analysis and even explained how he originally came up with concept for “A Few Good Men.” Talk about valuable insight.

Through this correspondence, Miller-Batteau learned that Sorkin has in fact rewritten the show an additional four or five times, but the latest script is not available to the public. Why so many rewrites? The legendary Sorkin may have referred to his original script as “amateurish,” but Miller-Batteau confessed it’s the version he actually prefers.

In addition to the show’s imposing reputation, Miller-Batteau had to confront challenging logistics. The script travels through five office locations in Washington D.C. to the prisons of Guantanamo Bay, finally landing in the famous military courtroom. All these scenes had fit in the modest space of the new Walgreen Drama Center’s black box theater – not an easy task considering Basement Arts isn’t exactly known for its generous funding. With a cast of 18 students and only three and a half weeks to rehearse, the fact that Miller-Batteau and his cast are poised and ready to perform this weekend is an accomplishment itself.

Seasoned acting seniors Rob Sulaver and Jeffrey Blim take to the stage as the accused Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep and novice attorney Daniel Kaffee, performances that will placate even the most stubborn Sorkin fan. So instead of renting the classic courtroom drama this weekend, trek up to North Campus for a free dose of the real thing.

Other famous (and not-so-famous) Aaron Sorkin titles:

“The West Wing” (1999-2003) – If the free museums and giant parks can’t convince you Washington, D.C. is the place to be, falling in love with Josh Lyman and/or Sam Seabourne should do the trick.

“Sports Night” (1998-2000) – Cringe-inducing laugh track aside, Sorkin’s first TV series went behind the scenes at a “Sportscenter”-type nightly news show with a fresher wit than 1998’s TV viewers were ready for.

“The American President” (1995) – A romantic comedy about the president of the United States? Give well-matched stars Michael Douglas and Annette Bening half the credit for realistically fleshing out that potentially hokey premise, but Sorkin’s unsentimental script also demonstrated his astute ear for the backstage workings of the White House.

A Few Good Men
Tonight at 7 p.m. and tomorrow at 7 and 11 p.m.
At the Walgreen Center

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