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Before taking your seat in Burbank Auditorium, the first thing you observe is the armed man in military garb on stage patrolling a chain-link fence.

At intermission, I noticed two more armed sentries in the catwalks above us.

It’s a reminder that we’re entering a world many of us know little about. “A Few Good Men,” the latest production at Santa Rosa Junior College, concerns who was responsible for the death of a U.S. Marine stationed at Guantanamo Bay two decades before the naval base became famous for housing prisoners from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The junior college cast takes this fast-paced gem of a courtroom drama and commands our attention throughout. You’re trying to understand not only what’s happening but also what’s motivating these men.

Two Marines in 1986 stand accused of murder. They maintain their colleague’s death occurred accidentally during a hazing that they had been ordered to perform. They don’t want to accept a plea bargain because they believe they did nothing wrong.

Anyone who has seen the movie with Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise knows the pyrotechnics for this story come from the clash between the bullying commander, Col. Nathan Jessup, and the carefree slacker of a military attorney, Lt. J.G. Daniel Kaffee. Both Chris Ginesi as Jessup and Justin Brown as Kaffee have to contend with our recollections of the film. For me it took a little time, but both men gave striking performances and had me caught up in their final confrontation.

Director Laura Downing-Lee’s production moved quickly thanks to outstanding work by the entire ensemble. They made the most of playwright Aaron Sorkin’s catchy, often-biting lines. Jalil Houssain, as Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson, one of the accused, was spot on as a man who must explain to the baffled Kaffee why he won’t take the easy way out.

Bravo also to Brett Mollard, Nathan Luft-Runner, Rosella Bearden, Braedyn Youngberg, Ron Smith, Jose´ L. del Tore, Jared Jacobson, Damion Square, Connor Nolan, Ben Kaplan and Kyle Morgan.

As Jessup says on the stand, “We follow orders or people die.” “A Few Good Men” works well because of its tension as we try to sort out the difference between a discipline that protects and one that proves destructive.

The play continues at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For tickets, call 527-4343 or click here.

– Robert Digitale

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