In a claustrophobic jury room, following a 3 day trial, witnesses and arguments, twelve very different men set forth on what most of them feel will be brief and concise deliberations. Save one. A young man, a teenager, from the undesirable part of town is accused of murdering his father with a switchblade in the middle of the night. There are witnesses: one who heard the quarrel and saw the boy fleet the scene, another who claims to have seen the actual act take place from her bedroom window, across the L-Train tracks.
Juror One (Scott Lowell) the Foreman, patiently makes ballots, assigns seats and corrals men to their assigned seats, Juror Three (Gregory North) boisterously, almost gleefully injects how simple and quick it will be to pronounce the defendant guilty., while Juror Seven (Barry Pearl) fixates on making it to the baseball game on time. The first voice happens, and Juror Eight (Jason George) voices his doubts.
Appalled, his fellow jurors demand he not prolong the deliberations and confess to see what is obvious to them all.Juror Eight insists that he is not proclaiming the defendant is innocent, but simply that he has doubts, doubts that must be satisfied if he will vote to send a man to his death. Slowly, Juror Eight’s skepticism infects the other jurors, beginning with Juror Nine (Adolphus Ward) the eldest member of the group.
As the evening progresses, some men reveal themselves to be reasonable, others have their own prejudices reveal and a few reveal their blatant bigotry. All this, making for an intense gathering of twelve very angry men.
Barring difficulty hearing the actors, I enjoyed this production. Director Sheldon Epps has chosen to draw a bright red circle around the issue of race relations with this enduring classic. By composing the jury with both White and Black actors, Epps draws direct references to race, where the original incarnation arguably focused more on class and social standing. However, this production mines the text for those correlations and exposed them expertly.
The production elements of this show are terrific. For me, there are no stand-out performances, which I think it to the credit of casting director Michael Donovan. It gave credibility to the supposition that these are blue collar men, with no special legal expertise; simply their common sense and desire to be conscientious citizens and decent human beings. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s costume and production design are quite smart modern wardrobe with a good splash of suspenders in a room that feels old like the institution over government. Well done to Brian L. Gale for the great yet subtly lighting design.
My only critique is my lament at Epps’ choice to embellish upon the language. More and more bigotry is coded in the language people use. It would serve audiences to hear that code, fueled by those powerful performances, so it is identifiable. Racial slurs are obvious, helping audiences recognize the code is far more provocative, especially when leaving the original text as is, may allow people to hear the code when they themselves are saying.
Twelve Angry Men is running now through December 1, 2013 at
39 S. Molino Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101