Thursday, March 08, 2007

12 Angry Men

There is something magical that happens, sometimes, in straight drama – when it’s good. During the course of a play, a dramatic moment will come and you suddenly become aware that there is total silence in the theater. You could literally hear a pin drop. It is as if the entire audience were holding its breath so as not to miss a single word coming from the stage. When the venue is a large arena, it’s even more impressive.

Such a moment happened more than once during the opening night performance of Roundabout Theater Company’s traveling production of “12 Angry Men,” directed by Scott Ellis, the current Broadway Series offering at the Sacramento Community Theater.

Reginald Rose’s screenplay for “12 Angry Men” was initially a 1954 CBS “Studio One” production, later made into a feature film with an all-star cast which included Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, and Jack Klugman, among others.

The 90 minute intermission-less play is set in a jury deliberation room, where 12 jurors are to decide the fate of a 16 year old boy accused of murdering his father.

Six time Emmy nominee George Wendt (Norm from “Cheers”) and Emmy winner Richard Thomas (who has had a long, successful Broadway career since he said his last “Good night” as John Boy on “The Waltons”) are the big name stars who will pull in audience dollars, but they head a stellar cast of lesser known names but no lesser talented co-stars, each of whom seems exactly right for the part.

Wendt is Juror #1 who, as foreman, seems to have the least to do, other than calling for the vote and trying to keep peace among his increasingly frustrated and angry co-jurors.

Thomas is Juror #8, the only one who is not quick to condemn a 16 year old to death, though all the facts presented during the trial seem conclusively to prove his guilt. #8 admits that he isn’t convinced one way or another, but he passionately believes that the mandatory death sentence demands the group at least spend a little time examining all the evidence.

His fellow jurors present a broad spectrum of backgrounds and personalities, each of whom has accepted the boy’s guilt, for a variety of personal reasons.

#3 (Randle Mell) has a bad relationship with his son and his anger toward the defendant is based on anger with his own son’s behavior.

#10 (Julian Gamble) is a bigot whose prejudices against those who are “different” reveal themselves very quickly. (“They're no good! There's not a one of 'em who is any good!”)

#7 (Mark Moretti) doesn’t really care. All he knows is he has tickets to a baseball game and he’s eager to get the whole thing settled before the first ball is tossed out.

#9 (Alan Mandell) is an elderly man with a failing body, but a keen mind who sees more than some of the other jurors see.

#11 (David Lively) is an immigrant who feels a strong sense of his civic duties and whose dedication to the rights of the defendant are more finely tied to his sense of privilege for being allowed to participate in the legal system of his chosen country.

Others in the cast include Todd Cerveris, Jeffrey Hayenga, Jim Saltouros, Charles Borland, T. Scott Cunningham and Patrick New.

“12 Angry Men” is an interesting and engrossing look at our judicial system, with all its strengths and weaknesses, and, though set in the 1950s, is as relevant today as it was when it was first presented.

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