L.A. Theatre Works’ riveting radio-theater rendition of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, presented Nov. 8th by Duke Performances, was an intense courtroom drama that completely captured the essence of Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1951 novel and his own 1954 stage adaptation, which concentrates on the trial, acquittal, and stinging post-trial rebuke by defense counsel of U.S. Navy Lt. Stephen Maryk (Matt Gaydos), the upstart executive officer of the U.S.S. Caine who deposed the aging destroyer/minesweeper’s skipper, Lt. Com. Philip Francis Queeg (John Vickery), at sea near the end of World War II, when Queeg began to act more and more paranoid and cowardly and his irrational orders, during a typhoon, threatened to sink the ship.

John Vickery gave a passionate performance as Queeg, a troubled ship’s captain, a martinet with a hair-trigger temper and snakes in his boots. By obsessing on trifles, such as whole stole some leftover strawberries from the captain’s mess, Queeg first lost the respect and then the allegiance of his increasingly alarmed junior officers.

Grant Shaud, who is probably best known for playing producer Miles Silverberg in “Murphy Brown” on TV, was effective in the serious-as-a-heart-attack role of Lt. Barney Greenwald, the reluctant counsel for the defense and ace attorney in civilian life who had to suppress his personal feelings about Maryk’s actions and reach elbow deep into his bag of legal tricks to get Maryk off.

Bill Brochtrup, who is probably most familiar to Triangle theatergoers as “Gay John” from “NYPD Blue,” played the handsome and charming scoundrel Lt. Thomas Keefer, with requisite charisma and wit. (Keefer repeatedly goaded his fellow officers to step up and risk imprisonment and possible execution for their parts in deposing the emotionally unstable Queeg while he himself served mainly as a wire-puller behind the scenes and a spectator in public.)

J. Paul Boehmer was a real fireeater as Lt. Com. John Challee, the righteously indignant judge advocate who dragooned his friend Greenwald into serving as defense counsel, and then excoriated Greenwald for bending the rules of courtroom propriety in representing his client; and pint-sized James Gleason gave a prickly performance Captain Blakely, the tough-but-fair presiding judge at Maryk’s controversial court martial.

In addition to playing naval lieutenant-turned-novelist Thomas Keefer with brio, Bill Brochtrup also performed the small but important parts of Lt. Willis Seward Keith and Dr. Bird with distinction. Tommy A. Gomez was also good in his dual roles as Capt. Randolph Southard and Dr. Forrest Lundeen; and Robert Blasko quite literally did yeoman’s work while portrayed Signalman Third Class Junius Urban and the Court Stenographer while simultaneously serving as the production’s stage manager and the Foley artist who created all the sound effects necessary to punctuate the performance of this truly exemplary ensemble.

Director John Rubinstein superbly orchestrated the action of this radio-theater presentation so that, except for the presence of numerous microphone stands on stage, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial seemed more like a full-scale production than a staged reading performed in authentic World War II military uniforms (beautifully reproduced by costume designer Holly Poe Durbin) with minimal scenic elements (carefully created by set designer Stephanie Schwartz).

Rubinstein, who received a nomination for the 1983 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play for his performance as Lt. Barney Greenwald in the first Broadway revival of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, skillfully navigates his way through the twists and turns of this complicated but compelling and very timely script, with its surprise denouement that rocks audience members who have strongly sympathized with the mutineers throughout the shocking series of revelations of Queeg’s quirky character tics and increasingly erratic and deeply troubling behavior.

Duke Performances: http://www.duke.edu/web/dukeperfs/ [inactive 8/07]. L.A. Theatre Works: http://www.latw.org/. The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial: http://cms.latw.org//latw/article.aspx?index=54 [inactive 9/07] (L.A. Theatre Works), http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=2348 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046816/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/caine-mutiny-text.html (excerpts from the novel and play courtesy the University of Pennsylvania).