Wednesday, April 4, 2012

theatre review TWELVE ANGRY MEN, George Street Playhouse, April 1

Twelve Angry Men is the ultimate ensemble dramatic play.  Every one of the twelve actors gets a moment to shine in it and the revival of the play at the George Sreet Playhouse has a excellent cast with several firecracker performances.  The play itself started as an hour long tv drama in 1954, was expanded for the 1957 Oscar nominated film and also reshaped as a 100 minute one act play.  The author of all three of these versions in Reginald Rose who was inspired to write this after he served as a juror on a manslaughter case.

The play is set in 1954, on a very hot day, and starts right when the jury enters the jury room to begin deliberations on a murder case.  The 12 jurors are all white men of various ages and the 16 year old boy who is on trial for murdering is father we quickly learn is most definitely not white.  They must reach a unanimous decision and when they take their first vote, just moments after they enter the room, they quickly learn that 11 of them believe the boy is guilty where as one believes he is innocent.  That one man has some question about the "beyond a reasonable doubt" part of the guilty verdict and he begins to bring up various pieces of evidence that were presented in the case to question as well as has serious issues around the lack of concern and attention to detail on the part of the boy's court appointed lawyer.  The play is a well written demonstration of various views of racism, aging, father/son rebellion and the impacts all of those have on the twelve men in the room.  It is also an interesting demonstration of the judicial system where one man is to be judged by a jury of his peers, which is especially concerning when the peers in front of you are nothing like you and come in with already preconceived judgements.  
John Bolger, Michael Sirow, Jonathan Hadary, David Schramm, Terry Layman,
Gregg Edelman and David Adkins.

Led by Gregg Edelman as the lone "not guilty" voting juror, who quietly and slowly works his concerns of the trial and thoughts on the rest of the jurors, he so simply but effectively portrays this man who is fighting for justice that we've all seen before.  He keeps his cool even when many of the men around him don't and provides the one constant glimmer of hope throughout the play.  David Schramm and James Rebhorn are the two most obstinate people in the room and the two loudest.  Schramm is the loud mouth bigot and Rebhorn is the juror who has plenty of issues with his son.  They are excellent in portraying the opposite side that Edelman is on.  Both men get themselves so worked up during the deliberations that you literally wouldn't be surprised if one of them has a heart attack, that is how accurate their portrayals are.  
James Rebhorn being held back at an explosive moment
in the play 

Jonathan Hadary and Terry Layman are the foreign juror and oldest juror respectively who both come to Edelman's understanding earlier then the rest and are ridiculed by the others for doing so.  Hadary in particular is so perfectly stated in his portrayal.  He is polished in his Eastern European accent and demeanor and appears so much more accepting of the responsibility and importance of being called to serve as a juror.  That role is quickly lost on a few of the other fellow jurors, Jonathan C. Kaplan in particular, who would rather get their juror sentence over as quickly as possible so they can get back to their lives.  Kaplan can't stop going on about the baseball tickets he has for that night and he is always rushing the others to make decisions.  (Kaplan was actually nominated for a Tony in 1993 as 13 year old Jason in the Tony winning musical Falsettos.  I saw him twice in that role and it is nice to see him all grown up and acting in a serious drama.)

Hadary, Rebhorn, Schramm, Layman, Sirow, Kaplan,
Sellars and Edelman
Scott Drummond and Michael Sirow are the two youngest jurors who let the older men have most of the say in the matters, but both are easily stirred to action when they find themselves caught in the crossfire of the other jurors as well as when issues that are directly related to their upbringing, Sirows in particular, are up for debate.  David Adkins is the wealthy businessman who tries to be calm and cool and is very reserved about the proceedings until he realizes that he starts to have his doubts as well about his initial guilty vote.  John Bolger, Jim Bracchitta and Lee Sellars round out the 12 jurors and they all get a moment or two to shine, add to the conversation as well as the decisions that the jurors make.  There isn't one bad actor on stage here.

Director and George Street Artistic Director David Saint can be commended once more for not only his superb, taught direction but for assembling a top notch catch.  The effective set design by R. Michael Miller perfectly grounds the action in the 1950's with a period perfect giant room. The pre-existing sweat stains alone on Schramm's shirt earn costume designer Esther Arroyo a huge award.  The rest of the costumes are designed perfectly to easily establish the various different classes and ages of the jurors. 

Twelve Angry Men only runs through this Sunday- don't miss it.

Official George Street Playhouse Site

Highlights from this production:

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