Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Twelve Angry Men

‘TWELVE ANGRY MEN’ gets superlative production at Palace

In the program notes for ‘TWELVE ANGRY MEN,’ now on stage at the Palace Theatre, Gina Vernaci, Vice President of Theatricals for Playhouse Square Foundation writes, ’TWELVE ANGRY MEN’ reminds us that a fair trial by our peers is among our essential rights as Americans.” In these days of reduction of our civil rights by the Bush administration, the issue is probably as relevant, if not even more significant, than it was in 1954, the year in which the play was set.

Vernaci also comments that the play raises the issues of a jury made up of 12 white male jurors deciding the fate of a minority offender. Though not as common these days, since women and minorities have been added to juries, the problem of being “judged by our equals” is still an issue in some jurisdictions and parts of the country. The O.J. Simpson murder trial is a case in point.

TWELVE ANGRY MEN’ was originally written as a teleplay which was shown in 1954 on ‘STUDIO ONE.’ It became a major motion picture starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, Ed Binns, Martin Balsam and Jack Klugman. The script was rewritten into a stage play in 1964 by Reginald Rose. In 2006, Roundabout Theatre Company opened the first New York production of the script. It was such a success that it was extended seven times, finally running 32 weeks. The success of that production inspired the touring version.

The story centers on a jury meeting to decide the fate of a black delinquent teenager. It appears that a guilty verdict will be quickly decided upon until a juror raises the possibility of “reasonable doubt.” From that point on, the happenings take strange and unexpected twists and turns.

The touring production is flawless. The acting, the directing, even the set add up to make an exciting evening of theatre.

Under the direction of Scott Ellis, a play that could be static, sizzles. From the very start, as we hear the off-stage voice of the judge giving the jury their instructions, the oppressive heat in the room, both the temperature and the temperaments, are crystal clear. The conflicts and even the humor are well developed. Each character is purely etched.

Richard Thomas, probably best know for his role as John Boy on ‘THE WALTONS,’ has an impressive theatrical background that takes him far beyond his media fame. He is the perfect catalyst for questioning the youth’s guilt, underplaying the role to get maximum effect.

Kevin Dobson (Juror Ten), who is best known for his role as Telly Savalas's partner in the 1970s crime drama ‘KOJAK,’ is impressive.

Julian Gamble (Juror Three) is the epitome of self hatred as the angriest of the jurors. Mark Morettini (Juror Seven) is excellent, as is Alan Mandell (Juror Nine) as the old man with an understanding of the angst of life. In fact, there is no weak cast member.

Capsule judgment: ‘TWELVE ANGRY MEN’ is an impressive production that should capture and keep the attention of audiences, even if they’ve seen the film or the play before. Applause! Applause!!