Courtroom Drama Descends on Broadway with Caine Mutiny Revival

By Matt Windman
March 23, 2006

Just in time to mark the third anniversary of the Iraq War, Broadway will be setting up its own military tribunal with a revival of Herman Wouk’s 1954 courtroom drama The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial at the Schoenfeld Theatre.



"The surface of the play is very clean, and everything is going on underneath,” actor Željko Ivanek said. Ivanek plays the critical role of Commander Queeg, who may or may not be insane. “We’re trying to figure out how to be truthful to it, but not make it feel like a period play, but something really immediate. The things it talks about are still very current. There are always questions about the military and society and issues of taking responsibility.”

Just after the cast finished a read-through of the script at their first rehearsal on, the theater press corps was invited into their rehearsal studio at Lincoln Center to meet and greet with the cast and creative team including actor David Schwimmer (Ross of “Friends”), director Jerry Zaks (La Cage Aux Folles, Little Shop of Horrors), and producer Jeffrey Richards.

“I was actively looking for something to do here in New York,” David Schwimmer said, who plays Lieutenant Barney Greenwald, a Jewish defense attorney. “I knew the book and the movie, but I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know it as a play, even after going to Northwestern, thinking I had a good education in theatre. When I read it was shocked by how damn good it was.”

“Jerry and all of us are going to be very faithful to the text. It hasn’t been done in 25 years or so and we’re excited by the idea of bringing it to the attention my generation and younger, because it’s just great writing.” Schwimmer said that he may direct Neil LaBute’s Some Girls in Los Angeles in the near future, and will also be working with his Chicago theater company, Lookingglass.

“The play is a serious examination of what happens when something goes terribly wrong in the navy and a man is accused of mutiny and then what happens in the courtroom,” Jerry Zaks said. “Essentially, it’s a fight. I’m directing a fight. It’s civilized, but it’s a fight over the fate of the defendant and the commanding officer. Lives are in the balance. It’s a drama, and it’s smart, and hopefully it will grab the audience’s attention and get them involved.

“It’s set in a time when we were fighting a war that most people thought had to be fought. Things are different now, as to whether people think the current conflict needs to be happening, but the military are no less heroes today than they were in 1945. It’s not their decision. I think people will want to live with these characters. There’s a curiosity about the workings of the military, so I think we will have a resonance today.”

Zaks mentioned that he first saw David Schwimmer perform onstage in London in Some Girls and has also been a fan of his television work on “Friends.” Zaks’ next project as a director will be a Manhattan Theater Club production of Losing Louis by English playwright Simon Mendes Da Costa, which he believes will open on or Off-Broadway in September.

Playwright Wouk debuted The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial on Broadway in 1954 (the book also served as the basis for the 1954 Humphrey Bogart film). The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial pits Lieutenant Stephen Maryk against Lieutenant Commander Queeg as Maryk relieves his minesweeper commander of duty after deciding Queeg has become too mentally unstable to pilot their World War II vehicle, the USS Caine. He is accused of mutiny and put on trial by the Navy. It is at the trial that The Caine Mutiny Court Martial takes place. Wouk's eleven novels include "The Winds of War," "War and Remembrance" and "Marjorie Morningstar."

The original Broadway production played 415 performances at the Plymouth Theatre. The cast featured Henry Fonda (Lt. Barney Greenwald), John Hodiak (Lt. Stephen Maryk) and Lloyd Nolan (Lt. Com. Philip Francis Queeg).

Directed by Jerry Zaks, Court-Martial will officially open May 7. The cast includes David Schwimmer (as Lt. Barney Greenwald), Željko Ivanek (as Lt. Com. Philip Francis Queeg), Tim Daly (as Lt. Com. John Challee), Terry Beaver (as Captain Blakely), Murphy Guyer (as Captain Randolph Southard), Brian Reddy (as Dr. Forrest Lundeen), Ben Fox (as Lt. Jr. Grade Willis Seward Keith) and Joe Sikora as Lt. Stephen Maryk.

The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (formerly Plymouth) is located at 236 West 45th Street. Preview performances begin April 14, 2006, with an opening set for May 7, 2006. Tickets are available by calling tele-charge at 212-239-6200.