Zeljko Ivanek does more while bound to a chair than many actors do with a full range of mobility.
Ivanek, who plays Lt. Com. Philip Francis Queeg in the revival of the 1950s courtroom drama "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial," squirms, fidgets and writhes as his tightly wound character slowly becomes undone under crossexamination.
Queeg's self-destruction is fascinating to watch. Ivanek transforms his character from a blustery Navy veteran who easily shrugs off his underlings' accusations that he is mentally incompetent to a pitiable, shaking shell – a man devoured by his inner demons.
At one point, he rambles almost incomprehensibly for minutes as other characters are rapt with horror, frozen on the stage.
Ivanek, a two-time Tony Award nominee last seen on Broadway in "The Pillowman," is easily the best part of an otherwise dry and tedious restaging of Herman Wouk's play at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. The venue, then known as the Plymouth Theatre, was where "Caine Mutiny" first opened on Broadway in 1954.
The play centers on the court-martial proceedings for Lt. Stephen Maryk, who is accused of relieving Queeg's command on a high-speed mine sweeper during a typhoon in the Philippine Sea toward the end of World War II.
Maryk maintains he did so because Queeg became frozen with fear, the latest in a series of episodes that showed he was mentally unfit to lead.
The evidence is laid out rather soporifically during the first act as Lt. Com. John Challee, the judge advocate played capably by Tim Daly, questions witness after witness. Maryk's defense attorney - Lt. Barney Greenwald, played by David Schwimmer of "Friends" fame - doesn't appear to be very engaged in the proceedings, at one point falling asleep, as some in the audience likely may have.
However, the evidence builds to the eventual questioning of Maryk and cross-examination of Queeg in the second act. Maryk cites a litany of questionable decisions and actions on Queeg's part. Queeg then takes the stand and tries to refute each one, his situation becoming more desperate by the second.
Maryk is eventually exonerated, but Schwimmer's character is hardly satisfied - in fact, he believes he has committed a mutinous act of his own by destroying Queeg's career.
Schwimmer is the least believable of the lead actors, which is unfortunate given that he has what should be the play's most powerful scene - a showdown after the court-martial with Lt. Thomas Keefer, Maryk's best friend.
But Schwimmer seems out of his element. He appears wooden at times -even for a military man in a courtmartial proceeding - and delivers a few lines with the sarcasm of his television persona Ross from "Friends," -- which seems incongruous.
Schwimmer also doesn't fully convey the depth of his character's conflicted feelings about representing Maryk, whom he views as a scapegoat for Keefer, a pampered elitist. His rage should be boiling over in the final scene; instead, it feels almost perfunctory.
Wouk's words translate well to contemporary times, particularly given recent military scandals such as the one at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, but this production is too staid. The only characters free to move about, Greenwald and Challee, are often stuck motionless behind their desks, giving emphasis to their words only with raised voices.
The set - two bare walls, a couple of flags and courtroom furniture - also accentuates the dryness of the proceedings. Were it not for Ivanek's portrayal of a tortured man slowly digging his own grave, the entire show would seem as flat as the pea green paint on the courtroom wall.
Now that TV and movie stars are frequent visitors to Broadway, perhaps we could set up a welcoming committee to help them make the transition.
The committee, for example, would surely have cautioned Julia Roberts against "Three Days of Rain" and urged her to do "His Girl Friday," which she was apparently considering.
Similarly, the committee could have been of great help to David Schwimmer, who is starring in Herman Wouk's "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial."
As one of the few living Americans who has never seen "Friends" (I work nights), I have no idea what kind of character he played on the show. What he projects on stage is a likable palooka, which is totally wrong for Barney Greenwald, the role he plays in "Caine Mutiny."
Greenwald is a street-smart Jew working as a naval lawyer during World War II. His knowledge of his obligations as a lawyer are at odds with his awareness of what the war means to him as a Jew. Schwimmer conveys none of this complexity.
But then the production itself, directed by Jerry Zaks, seldom gets below the surface.
The major exception is Zeljko Ivanek, who plays Capt. Queeg, the commander of the U.S.S. Caine, whose crew rebels against him on a crucial day in the war in the Pacific.
When we first see lvanek's Queeg, he has a career military man's cockiness. lvanek has hooded eyes, which occasionally give him a menacing look.
By the end of Greenwald's grilling, however, the face seems blank and skeletal. His jaunty gait has been replaced by a slow, mournful step. His final exit is almost unbearably painful.
A few of the other performances are effective. Terry Beaver gives the judge a deep humanity, getting more from his reactions than most of the actors do from their lines. Tom Nelis and Brian Reddy are funny as a pair of psychiatrists. Murphy Guyer is also strong.
Often one has the sense the actors have been directed to get through the play as quickly as possible, not even taking time for pauses.
John Lee Beatty's sets are simple, and well lit by Paul Gallo. William lvey Long's naval uniforms are so stylish I can imagine a new vogue for the military look.
Although some of the play's concerns now seem remote, others are surprisingly up to the minute. It seems a shame the production doesn't make a more compelling case for the play.
There is nothing in the popular theatre like a good old courtroom drama to get the adrenaline flowing, the interest held, the nails bitten and the mind expectant.
Well, that's the general idea. It doesn't always work. Herman Wouk's "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial," which returned to Broadway at the Schoenfeld Theatre last night, with Zeljko Ivanek, David Schwimmer and Tim Daly, has it working to a fare-thee-well.
It is an archetypal example of the well-made, wonderfully pleasurable but basically manipulative play.
Well, not entirely manipulative, for at its own simplistic level it's a whole lot of fun and even thought-provoking.
But it's not "Hamlet." And it's not "Faith Healer" either. And it doesn't even have the classy literary pretensions of "The History Boys."
That sounds more patronizingly snobbish than I intend -after all one of the main purposes of art is to entertain, be it "Oedipus Rex" or burlesque sex.
So, let's suggest that "The Caine Mutiny" is a guilty delight, and accept that with the kind of smooth-as-satin staging and general performance level it is getting here, that delight comfortably outweighs any guilt.
If you are of a certain age - or just a lover of old Humphrey Bogart movies - the plot will probably be familiar. It's World War II in the Pacific. Lt. Commander Philip Francis Queeg (Ivanek) is in command of an old tub of a destroyer, the U.S.S. Caine, dating from World War I.
The vessel encounters one hell of a typhoon, and Queeg's reactions to the peril and his consequently incompetent navigational handling of the ship causes him to be deposed by his Executive Officer, Stephen Maryk (Joe Sikora), to safeguard both ship and crew.
The 1954 play, based by the author on his best-selling 1951 novel "The Caine Mutiny," is concerned with nothing but the book's concluding trial of Maryk for mutiny, and, as a dramatic coda, the trial's aftermath.
Maryk's defense counsel, a Jewish lawyer - and his ethnicity has its significance - Lt. Barney Greenwald (Schwimmer), battles his accuser, Lt. Com. John Challee (Daly) before a naval tribunal headed by Captain Blakely (Terry Beaver).
As the trial, adroitly plotted by Greenwald, proceeds, tables are turned on Queeg, who, as the defense methodically reveals, was to all intent and purposes a certifiably paranoid nut-case.
The breakdown of Queeg on the stand is one of the great actorly moments in 20th-century American drama.
Bogart's shifty evasiveness was impressive in the movie (and it's a performance embedded in celluloid) but nothing like as persuasive as Lloyd Nolan, who played Queeg in the original New York and London productions, a little-known B-feature film actor giving a towering performance of a man's collapse.
But then I've never met a Queeg I didn't like. Last time out on Broadway, in 1983, Michael Moriarty convincingly offered a firecacker Queeg as mad as a loon, and now we have Ivanec, cool, calm and crazy, until he seems to sweat under the lights and crumblingly disintegrates before our eyes. Lovely stuff.
Queeg is the only part that isn't effectively played by the play - and the casting is virtually as important as the direction. Jerry Zaks has staged this courtroom melodrama with zest and pace.
Schwimmer as Greenwald, Queeg's reluctant nemesis and defender of the all-American kid charged with mutiny, really only has to be bewildered, quizzical, then a bit more bewildered, cleverly conniving and drunkenly outraged all according to the text, and Schwimmer is and does, although without much nuance.
The only weak performance -as opposed to happily conventional - is that of Geoffrey Nauffts as the duplicitous novelist, Keefer, but even here in fairness the role is not nearly so well displayed as in either original novel or the movie, where Fred MacMurray was able to run away with the whole shebang.
Interestingly the one question neither this production nor any other is able to answer or even address seems as crucial as either the play's well-known strawberry business or even its later bars-of-soap business -would the Caine have sunk if Queeg had not been relieved of its command?
Sympathetic as I am to Greenwald's mom -remembering my own delicate ethnic positioning during World War II -that seems a basic issue that Wouk brushes to one side in a comprehensible passion and prehistoric, as it were, burst of political correctness.
Attention, please. All New Yorkers eager to experience the edge-of-your-seat suspense and gut-churning excitement commonly associated with two weeks of federal jury duty, please report to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, where a new Broadway revival of "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" opened last night. Roll call at 8 p.m.
Kidding aside, it is just possible that a stint weighing a worker's compensation case could offer more thrills than this eye-glazing attempt to resurrect Herman Wouk's 1953 play, adapted from his novel "The Caine Mutiny." Directed with metronome in hand by Jerry Zaks, this workmanlike production gives few clues to the enduring appeal of Mr. Wouk's tale of possible cowardice and possible insubordination, plus a humdinger of a typhoon, some disappearing strawberries and a nut job memorably named Queeg.
The blandly efficient cast includes David Schwimmer, the pouting puppy of the long-running sitcom "Friends," as Lt. Barney Greenwald, for the defense; Tim Daly, also probably best known for his television work, on "Wings," as Lt. Cmdr. John Challee, for the prosecution; and the veteran stage actor Zeljko Ivanek as the weaselly Captain Queeg, the key witness for both.
On trial is Lt. Stephen Maryk (Joe Sikora), who has been accused of insubordination for wresting command of a Navy destroyer-minesweeper from Queeg during a fearsome storm in the Pacific in the latter days of World War II. The case turns on the question of whether Maryk's move was justified by the peculiar patterns of behavior exhibited by his commanding officer, who might be described today as a freakish cross between Captain Ahab and Martha Stewart. (You can almost picture Ms. Stewart making a peppy pitch for the silver balls Queeg famously fondles as a handy — and decorative — tension-reducing device.)
Did Queeg's relentless prosecution of petty shipboard infractions and his cowardly behavior on the fringes of battle indicate a dangerous mental instability, or was Maryk's action a grave flouting of the rules of military order?
A more pertinent question, unfortunately, is whether audiences now accustomed to slicker and quicker dramatic interpretations of courtroom conflict will remain intrigued by Mr. Wouk's deliberate, detail-packed presentation of the cases for and against.
In 1954, when "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" opened on Broadway, with Henry Fonda incongruously cast as the Jewish Greenwald, the intricacies of jurisprudence were little-charted territory in pop culture, relatively speaking. No doubt the portentous discussions of Queeg's possibly aberrant mind — the word paranoid is sprinkled through the dialogue like an exotic seasoning — seemed revelatory too, peeling away the sheen of patriotic postwar flag-waving to reveal the boiling tensions of military life.
But in the half-century since, Americans have been given a long and thorough lesson in both the pathologies of combat duty (name that Vietnam War picture) and, more germanely, the practices of the nonmilitary justice system, courtesy of numerous television shows ranging from the sober histrionics of "Perry Mason," which went on the air in 1957, to "Law & Order" and its serial offspring, which will no doubt be available for viewing when the next century dawns.
By comparison with the tauter, highlights-only displays of lawyerly brilliance on which such shows turn, Mr. Zaks's plodding production of Mr. Wouk's play seems like a dry recitation of a trial transcript. You may feel a distinct surge of fellow-feeling for the stenographer clicking away on a machine at stage left, or at least the actor dutifully portraying him. (Nice job, Tom Gottlieb.)
On a set by John Lee Beatty that fails to evoke a claustrophobic atmosphere that might help ratchet up the tension, Mr. Schwimmer and Mr. Daly mostly stand around like talking flagpoles, going through the familiar motions of examining and cross-examining witnesses whose testimony tends to blur together, despite differences in age and temperament.
Exceptions to the general colorlessness are Geoffrey Nauffts, in a flavorful turn as the self-satisfied and possibly nefarious novelist, Lieutenant Keefer, and Tom Nelis, as a smug psychiatrist who proffers comments like "We live in a sick civilization," which presumably sounded more provocative in the 1950's than they do today.
Mr. Schwimmer's eyebrows perform interesting semaphoric maneuvers when Greenwald is working up to a crucial point, and he spreads some of the sardonic flavoring familiar to fans of his Ross on "Friends" here and there. But he fails to humanize this central character, who comes across as both drearily self-righteous and jarringly contemporary. As the crafty Greenwald moves the focus of the case to the eccentricities of Queeg, Mr. Daly mostly looks handsome and annoyed.
By contrast, Mr. Ivanek, a first-rate stage actor, turns in a fine-grained piece of psychological portraiture as the quirky Queeg. His subtle delineation of Queeg's gradual breakdown on the witness stand, as he is snared in a net of his own lies and evasions, is admirably focused and rich in detail: the uncontrollably trembling hand, the shrinking into an invisible shell as shame and confusion envelop him.
But is the performance too inwardly focused and subtle to register strongly here? Probably. Then again, to infuse this torpid production with sufficient energy for a galvanizing climax, Mr. Ivanek would probably need to perform Queeg's disintegration as a frothing-at-the-mouth, eye-rolling extravaganza of epic proportions. I hereby withdraw the question, and the quibble.
David Schwimmer, the latest screen star to arrive on Broadway, is no dilettante when it comes to theater.
Before finding fame on the sitcom Friends, Schwimmer co-founded Chicago's noted Lookingglass Theatre Company, and his stage credits have since stretched from Chitown to Williamstown to London. But as the new revival of Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (* * ½ out of four) makes plain, an impressive resume does not guarantee a brilliant performance.
Neither do good intentions. Schwimmer's bio for Court-Martial, which opened Sunday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, lists five great-uncles who served in World War II; and the actor clearly brings personal commitment to the role of a Jewish U.S. Navy lawyer presiding over a trial in February 1945, just as Allied forces were putting the kibosh on Hitler's reign of terror.
But Schwimmer's portrayal of Lt. Barney Greenwald, who is called to defend a fellow lieutenant accused of defying his superior during a crisis, has the self-conscious, at times preening quality of a diligent but overeager student.
His tonally repetitive line readings, particularly in the first act, aren't nuanced enough to relay Greenwald's conflicted feelings about representing a young man whose actions and attitude disturb him.
In fairness to Schwimmer, much of the acting in Court-Martial has the flavor of posturing. Under Jerry Zaks' direction, Wouk's dialogue - not the most natural to begin with – is recited, shouted and imbued with a too-knowing wryness, so that the production can acquire the canned, melodramatic feeling of an old movie dragged kicking and screaming onto the stage. (Court-Martial, first presented as a novel, was adapted into a film in 1954.)
The player who fares best under these circumstances is the always-compelling Zeljko Ivanek.
As Captain Queeg, the troubled officer who is deposed at sea, Ivanek delivers a dynamic, textured performance, reinforcing the dual themes of military dysfunction and valor that still make Wouk's play intriguing in spite of its shortcomings.
Terry Beaver is robust as another captain presiding over the trial, while Tim Daly is polished led but less affecting as the prosecuting attorney.
Joe Sikora is ovewrought as the immature lieutenant charged with mutiny; his banter with Schwimrner is seldom convincing.
Schwimmer is better toward the end, once the setting has shifted to a booze-laden hotel dining room.
Liberated from duty, his Greenwald delivers his most heartfelt testimony with a passion that contrasts with both the character's previous ambivalence and Schwimmer's own relative stiffness earlier on.
Sadly, the scene offers too little too late to make Court-Martial worthy of more than a mixed verdict.
When he dramatized a part of the plot of his 1951 Pulitzer-winning novel, Herman Wouk had no way of knowing that a half-century later, "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" would seem so disconcertingly schizophrenic. Any drama about unfit leadership is bound to resonate in Bush's America, especially with lines about the leader in question like, "You might say he revises reality in his own mind so that he comes out blameless." But the play then turns self-righteous in a final scene that seems almost like an apologia for Donald Rumsfeld. Having won his case by discrediting the commander's stability, the defense lawyer proceeds to condemn liberal intellectuals who criticize military chiefs without firsthand knowledge of war.
Last season's taut revival of another period piece that confines an all-male ensemble to a courtroom or thereabouts, "Twelve Angry Men," might have made resurrecting Wouk's drama seem a good idea. Back on the same stage where it premiered in 1954, "Caine Mutiny" is still a well-made play with a share of suspense, but in Jerry Zaks' efficient but uninspired production, it rarely crackles. In this uninterestingly designed staging at least, the Navy drama seems stilted, unable to harness its awkward relevance for renewed vigor.
Part of the problem is casting. Lt. Barney Greenwald, who reluctantly takes on the defense of Lt. Stephen Maryk in a San Francisco Naval District court on charges of mutiny, has been played by enough distinctly different types to suggest a part open to interpretation. Earnest everyman Henry Fonda originated the role on Broadway. Jose Ferrer gave it a shifty edge in Edward Dmytryk's movie the same year. Eric Bogosian brought his coiled menace to Robert Altman's 1988 television remake.
David Schwimmer diligently channels stiff-backed seriousness and conflicted integrity into Greenwald, but it's a bland, unmodulated performance that saddles the play with an inert center. The actor also fails to evoke the period of a drama set in 1945.
The same goes for Joe Sikora as Maryk, the conscientious exec officer of the run-down minesweeper, the USS Caine; Geoffrey Nauffts as manipulative and cowardly budding novelist Lt. Thomas Keefer; and Tim Daly as the authoritative prosecutor, Lt. Com. John Challee. All four actors get the job done but are unable to bring texture to their characters in a production that's all stiff surfaces.
Some much-needed color is introduced via two minor roles of Navy medical authorities who take the stand. Brian Reddy injects an entertaining shot of fruity pompousness into Dr. Forrest Lundeen, while Tom Nelis is amusingly thorny as the starchy Freudian, Dr. Bird. These actors at least appear to have done their homework and watched a few WWII movies.
But the play's main attraction, of course, has always been Lt. Com. Philip Francis Queeg, a role indelibly associated with a then-fragile Humphrey Bogart in the 1954 film, three years before his death. Watching the battle-worn, clinically paranoid captain come unstrung during questioning provides a tense, emotionally fraught climax after dense testimony concerning the events that prompted Maryk to relieve Queeg of his command during a typhoon in the Pacific.
Cocky and self-assured when he first appears as a witness for the prosecution, Zeljko Ivanek's Queeg seems to become steadily older and more frail when recalled by Greenwald, trembling visibly as the lawyer's questioning wears him down and exposes the depths of his neuroses.
(The steel marbles that Queeg famously rolls around in one hand when he's under pressure make only a brief appearance.)
It's a fascinating perf, bristling first with arrogance and then with pain, desperation and humiliation. But while Ivanek's meltdown is affecting, the actor's work seems robbed of its deserved impact by the undynamic context.
It's the principal strength of Wouk's play that we root initially for the downfall of Queeg as an obsessive martinet but gradually are made to feel the tragic hollowness of a man stripped of his dignity. That humane sense of the fallibility and vulnerability of the military chain of command reverberates in Greenwald's final speech, slamming the smug Keefer for his instrumental role in undermining a dedicated armed forces leader.
Jewish Greenwald's deep respect for the WWII leaders that fought Hitler fuels his ire. But today's global conflicts are not as black and white, and Iraq in particular is not Nazi Germany in any analysis. In 2006, the play's conclusion has an uneasy, preachy tone. Is Wouk saying that their commitment to cause and country make even the most unreliable military chiefs untouchable?