REVIEW: Avon Players ‘A Few Good Men’ Inspires with Commanding Performances that Electrify

“A pushy broad, a smart Jew and a Harvard mouth” walk into a military courtroom to take on the United States Marine Corps in Avon Players’ powerful production of A Few Good Men, running from now until November 26, 2022, in Rochester, Mich.

L to R: Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson (Matt Druminski), PFC William Santiago (Kyle Kiesler), and PFC Louden Downey (Jacob Rayl) find themselves caught up in deadly lies and deceit. Photo courtesy of Avon Players’ Facebook.

Thanks to the popularity of the 1992 film of the same name, many will be familiar with the premise of this show. What most may not realize is that before ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ became part of our pop culture lexicon, A Few Good Men began as a play and both were written by Aaron Sorkin. In fact, Sorkin’s inspiration for the story came from his sister Deborah, a lawyer with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General. She defended a group of Marines in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who had nearly killed a fellow Marine in a hazing ordered by a superior officer. Building off this idea, Sorkin penned one of the sharpest and most captivating courtroom dramas to appear on stage or screen.

In watching the action play out on stage, I realized A Few Good Men is a story rich with layers, and it also has moments of levity that I feel get lost in the movie. Patrick Daniels (in his Avon Players’ directorial debut) does a terrific job of keeping the action moving at a steady pace so that the audience feels invested in each scene. The action volleys with scenes fading on one side of the stage and then coming to life on the other side. This staging allows the audience to experience some of the scenes that are only alluded to in the movie, which is nice.

From L to R: Joe Danz as “Lt. Daniel Kaffee,” and Marie Burchi-Skipinski as “Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway.” Photo Credit: Bryan Clifford.

In case you are going into this show with zero background knowledge of this story, it centers around Private First Class (PFC) William Santiago (Kyle Kiesler) who desperately wants out of the Marine Corps but is found dead before he can be transferred. Accused of his murder are Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Matt Druminski) and PFC Louden Downey (Jacob Rayl in his Avon Players’ debut). These two characters are yin and yang. They both believe fiercely in the Corps and what it stands for, but Dawson is a little older with more experience, while Downey is still green when it comes to understanding how the world works. Both Druminski and Rayl were perfectly cast. In fact, every time Rayl appears on stage, your heart breaks for this character who is still such a boy caught in the middle of a very grown-up situation. He has confusion and heartbreak written all over his face.

Cavalier Lieutenant (Lt.) Daniel Kaffee (Joe Danz) is the officer assigned to their case by his superior Captain Isaac Whitaker (Eddie Saenz in his Avon Players’ debut). Although an officer and an excellent litigator, Kaffee lacks the drive to see cases through. In fact, he’s never seen the inside of a courtroom because he always plea bargains his cases. With so much at stake, Lt. Commander Joanne Galloway (Marie Burchi-Skipinski) gets herself assigned to the case so she can keep an eye on Kaffee. As the only woman in the story, Galloway fights the macho mindset at every turn and Burchi-Skipinski does a superb job of bringing her to life and making her likable. Rounding out the defense team is Lt. Sam Weinberg (Aaron Barnes) who is part mediator between Kaffee and Galloway and part comic relief when needed.

Capt. Matthew Markinson (Jeff Stillman) answers for his actions in this poignant scene from ‘A Few Good Men.’ Photo courtesy of Avon Players’ Facebook.

On the other side of the case is a tight-night group of Marines – Lt. John James Kendrick (Jonathan Farrell) a zealot for the Corps and God. Farrell was so convincing in the role, there were times you just wanted to slap the smugness off his face. Captain Matthew Markinson (Jeff Stillman) is a little more sympathetic but still deeply troubled and flawed. Commander Walter Stone (Mark Palmer) is a highly respected doctor who is willing to bend the rules to fit the situation when needed. And at the top of this testosterone-fueled pyramid is Colonel Nathan Jessop (Chris Stepnitz). Stepnitz is no stranger to the Avon Players’ stage and has inhabited a variety of roles, but as Jessop, he really sank his teeth into the character’s deplorable and self-righteous personality. Rounding out the cast is Captain Jack Ross (Ryan Donnellon), the Marine lawyer assigned to prosecute the case, and Captain Julius Randolph (Sean Allen in his Avon Players’ debut) as the judge tasked with keeping everyone in line.

Everyone is to be commended for bringing their own strengths to their roles. Given the iconic nature of these characters, it would have been very easy to simply mimic what Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and others did in the movie. Thank you for not insulting your audience. I truly felt the tension during pivotal scenes and even though I knew what was going to happen in the courtroom between Kaffee and Jessop, Danz and Stepnitz put their personal stamp on it and electrified the stage with their passion.

A heated courtroom moment from Avon Player’s ‘A Few Good Men.’ From L to R (back): Jacob Rayl as PFC Louden Downey, Matt Druminski as Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson, and Sean Allen as Colonel Julius Randolph. From L to R (front): Joe Danz and Lt. Daniel Kaffee, Chris Stepnitz as Col. Nathan Jessop, and Ryan Donnellon as Lt. Jack Ross. Photo courtesy of Avon Players’ Facebook.

The genius of this show is that the audience can easily find a character (or two) he or she identifies with. In life who hasn’t felt powerless? Or bullied? Or perhaps just not good enough. Underneath all the military jargon and procedure lies a story with heart and a reminder that even though we’re all flawed, we still have value and can rise above our circumstances. I’m sure it was no coincidence this play opened on Veterans Day. The timing couldn’t have been more on point as we personally and as a country continue to wrestle with the question, what is honor? What is right? And what is the code we choose to live by? Make sure you don’t miss the special opportunity to immerse yourself in this persuasive production.

This performance runs approximately two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission. Be advised there is strong language and a scene depicting self-harm.

Avon Players would like to honor all those who serve and have served to keep us safe. Members of the military, veterans and first responders may see our production of A Few Good Men for free this weekend. Tickets are available at the door.

Tickets for all shows are $25. Call 248-608-9077 for tickets or order online at Discounts on matinee tickets are available for seniors and students; call the box office for details. Additionally, group rates are available by calling the box office.“Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. All major credit cards are accepted. All seats are reserved. 

Show Dates and Times

  • Saturday, November 12, 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 13, 2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, November 18, 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, November 19, 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 20, 2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, November 25, 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, November 26, 8:00 p.m.
About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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