Thalian Association is returning to the fantail of the Battleship North Carolina just in time for July 4, with a courtroom drama based on Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.” The show made it to Broadway in 1954 and was aired live on TV in 1955 before becoming a made-for-TV movie in 1984.
The story follows the trial of a group of Navymen who were aboard the USS Caine during war, with a typhoon threatening the ship. When Lt. Commander Queeg makes a few missteps, his second-in-command takes over the reins and leads the crew into mutiny. The aftermath of it takes place in a courtroom, with the audience hearing testimony of events, as if they’re the jury listening firsthand.
Jordan Wolfe will direct the show, which opens this week, June 29. We interviewed him and actors Stuart Pike and Patrick Raynor, about the debut of “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.”
encore (e): Is this your first time directing this show?
Jordan Wolfe (JW): This is my first time directing “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.” Before this I finished directing “The Odd Couple,” the female version, at Coastal Carolina Community College.
e: Tell me what appeals to you most about the show: plot-wise, theme-wise, character-wise, etc.
JW: It’s appealing because of the multitude of ideas that the military is, and does, for differing individuals within it, how those people act when put under pressure. Having been raised in a military family, the show really spoke to me with how it decided to portray certain individuals, especially near the end of the second world war. Each character in this show is unique and really shows the economic and intellectual diversity within the military.
Stuart Pike (SP): First off, this is a classic piece of literature and an iconic film. Its greatest appeal is the challenge of recreating these characters and stories within the play. All of the familiar incidents are present but through testimony instead of cinematography.
Patrick Raynor (PR): The appeal lies in the idea that things that happen are not always what they initially seem. Sometimes previous, trivial events, leading up to a major event, can alter our perception of the facts. When you mix in character flaws, or a person’s altered mental state, you can wind up with a very different version of facts. Truth can be a moving target.
e: When’s the first time you were introduced to the text/play and what effect did it have on you—how are you bringing that to the directorial helm?
JW: I watched the film years ago. My fiancée and I are classic movie lovers, and this is one within the repertoire we actually own; it is an excellent film. When [Thalian Association artistic director] Chandler Davis offered me the chance to direct this show a year ago, that was the first time I really delved into the stage adaptation. As I read the script, and noticed the differences from the movie (which there are a few), I was astounded how I empathized with many of the characters. I was moved by their stories, and felt to have this story truthfully told, not one was any less important than the rest. By making sure each character brings their part of the trial to life, to me, the show is beautiful.
e: Tell us a little about the characters and their appeal.
JW: I believe the audience will be torn between the main characters of the show. While “appealing” is not the word I would choose, I believe they are all interesting for their beliefs, as well as their faults.
Greenwald is a lawyer who will do just about anything to win this case, even if he has to destroy part of the military, which he truly respects and admires. His willingness to not let that hinder him makes him stand out for those willing to fight for the underdog.
SP: [My character,] Greenwald, is the closest thing to a protagonist the show has, and he is no saint. . . . I am attracted to his complexity. He states in the first minutes he would rather be prosecuting than defending. Yet, he does everything he can to gain an acquittal, though it gives him great discomfort.
He is the only hope for the accused. Eight attorneys have turned down the case. He never leaves the stage either.
e: What’s the most difficult part in bringing your character to life?
SP: The flow of the dialogue. Abruptly changing subjects during questioning, 1940s vernacular—those people “tawk” funny.
Patrick Raynor (PR): I play the character of Captain Blakely, the military officer who presides over the court. He is central to the story because he serves as both judge and jury; portraying the changes in his thinking is difficult because it must be done with subtlety. He decides on the ultimate guilt or innocence of the accused. Although, he does not think very highly of the actions of the accused, nor the tactics of his counsel, he is committed to the notice that justice be served. Through the testimony of witnesses and the conduct of the trial, he slowly comes to realize the events leading up to the mutiny are more complicated than he realized going into it.
e: And the other characters…
JW: We have all been Maryk: young, idealistic, working under conditions that are unbearable because of an “incompetent” boss. Maryk is foolhardy and way too trusting, but means everything for the best. He will do anything to make sure everyone is being treated fairly, but is too stubborn to notice the entire picture.
Queeg has been put in charge of an impossible situation, with a crew that doesn’t like him. Not to mention a superiority complex like none other. However, he does everything he “believes” is right to help the United States win the war. Being the only commander to bother conn a ship in a typhoon, as well as be relieved of command by a mutiny would mess with the mind of the best of men.
Keefer is the man who believes the military failed him, and cannot wait to get out. One of, if not, the smartest men in the show. He is wise-cracking, smooth-talking salesman, and Maryk’s confidant. He knows just what to say and when to say it, much to the lawyers’ dismay.
e: The show touches on mental health, which has received a lot of coverage as of late and is of constant discussion in our society. What do you find most interesting about the revelatory nature of Queeg’s mental state in the show? Or any of the characters, for that matter?
JW: It is interesting to me to see how mental illness was discussed at the time. What qualified military men for service, and how far they could mentally be affected before it affected their career. Learning of Queeg’s “neurosis,” as I will call it, is both exciting and a little heartbreaking. Queeg does everything right, and by doing so ultimately reveals his mental state with it.
This show is more of a how-to in manipulation than any kind of show that will be a champion of mental health.
PR: Although much is known today of psychological issues affecting war-time veterans, there was not as much knowledge of it during WWII. I believe there is more vigorous psychological testing of military personnel now than there was then.
e: How does this text challenge societal or traditional mores of the time period it was written? Or does it?
JW: The only thing this show challenges, if it really even does that, is answering the question, “What should be required for a man to captain a sea vessel?”
e: Do you have a favorite scene?
SP: My favorite scene will probably be the final one—though Queeg’s testimony will be a close second. In the final scene my character, Greenwald, is drunk and I must walk the fine line of believability without becoming a caricature of a drunk. It will be a challenge but that is what I seek first in roles.
e: Clearly, the show is in line with the July 4 celebration aboard the USS Battleship NC. Aside from the obvious factors of it being about US Navy forces, what about the show brings home or reinforces patriotic notions we cling to as Americans?
JW: The show is about learning, and knowing, when to set personal ideals aside for the betterment of the country, and for that matter the world. The show is set seven months before the war ends, which means that it has lost as many ships as captains are called to testify. It really brings to the forefront the idea of making the right choice, but also needing to know what the right choice is.
e: What’s the biggest challenge of the show aside from logistical elements of hosting it on a battleship?
JW: It will be handling the severity of the issue with the humor and lightheartedness of some of the show. It will also need great detail given to the language being spoken on stage. There is a lot of information being given, and making sure the audience doesn’t miss much will be highest priority.