Like “Here’s looking at you, kid” or “You talkin’ to me?”, “You can’t handle the truth” is one of those memorable lines that writers dream of writing and actors dream of delivering.

The Portland Players have opened an ambitious production of “A Few Good Men,” the play in which that famous line about truth, later delivered by Jack Nicholson in the movie version, made its first appearance. It makes for an engaging if, at three hours with intermission, a seat cushion-testing night at the theater.

Aaron Sorkin’s 1989 play concerns the aftermath of the death of a Marine at the Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Was it an accident — a so-called “code red” punishment gone too far? Or, was it a murder? Further, who ordered it and was there a cover-up?

The military initially wants to keeps things tidy and limits the inquiry to the two low-ranking Marines directly involved. But, when some young Navy lawyers are asked to look into the matter, things begin to unravel. This unraveling of the facts, complicated by differing ideas of duty and honor, form the core of the play. For the lawyers, it’s both a challenge of their professional skills and sense of justice.

Brandon Pullen has the lead role of Lt. Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise in the movie). At Friday’s opening performance, he was good at conveying that sort of frat-boy charm that this young lawyer has, up until then, used to finesse most of his cases. Pullen was a dynamic force on the stage despite a tendency to rush his lines at times.

Lauren McShane played the feisty Lt. Cmdr. Galloway. She brought out her character’s focus and determination in the face of some crude treatment at the hands of the military men around her. Paul Menezes and Kenny Volock also acquitted themselves well in lawyer roles. Menezes showed particular range, going from clown to tough guy and back again as the play went along.

But the real hard edge, of course, comes from Lt. Colonel Jessep. He’s an old school Marine and Jaimie Schwartz, with a slight reference to the Nicholson portrayal, had him down cold. His work with other local theater companies over the years has proven that Schwartz knows how to do crazy. With the added menace in this role, he was imposing. His dialogues with Pullen and others were riveting, particularly during the first act.

With a cast of 20, there are many who deserve mention. David Aaron Van Duyne was a creepy Lt. Kendrick while Sean Colby was moving as the dim-witted Pfc. Downey. Luke Sisselman provided comic relief as a bouncy Cpl. Howard and Don Miller handled the difficult role of the ill-fated Capt. Markinson.

Given all the players, dialogue and required scene changes, director Joseph A. Swenson kept things moving along nicely in this compelling drama, which may take a while to get there but delivers a still very relevant message.

The cushions held up well.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.