Raven’s TWELVE ANGRY MEN Gets Mad

March 10, 2010 at 9:22 pm Leave a comment

REVIEW: Twelve Angry Men

Written by Reginald Rose

Directed by Aaron Todd Douglas

Raven Theatre

* * * (out of 4)

I enjoy a bunch of sweaty ornery men stuck together in an enclosed space as much as the next guy.  Reginald Rose’s 1954 12 Angry Men supplies all of that.  The drama was originally penned for the small screen during the golden age of television.  It works incredibly well on-stage, becoming a staple of theatres of all sorts around the country.  Although often community or high school theatre fare, Raven Theatre decided to give the American classic a full treatment, under the steady direction of A. Todd Douglas.  While occasionally stumbling on itself, the sparky production is as volatile as a sweltering July day.

Rose got the inspiration for the play from a real-life scenario that is rife with drama—the jury room.  Twelve men enter the room, each bringing their own opinions, prejudices, and desires to the table, and they must decide the fate of young man on trial for murder.  The play is fiercely compelling because every man is forced to make decisions; no one is allowed to wallow in uncertainty.  The play starts with a near unanimous vote for guilty with one dissenter (Juror #8, a smooth C.L. Brown), who just wants to stir up a little discussion before they send a teenager to his death.  During this discussion, truths are questioned, ties are loosened, engagements are missed, and pretty much everyone gets angry.

Although the Raven production captures the temper, it comes across as unbalanced.  About half of the actors are spectacular, and the other half are wacky and cartoonish.  Some of the actors seem to struggle with Rose’s hard-boiled 1950s language.  The fast-paced, New York City style doesn’t sit well with everybody.  Some can encapsulate Rose’s language brilliantly, especially Edward Diaz as the no-nonsense Juror #7.   Brown also does a good job navigating the play, his calm composure compensates for the fact that he seems to be the youngest of the bunch.  Juror #1 is the foreman and faced with leading the pack, and Kenneth Johnson does an excellent job as diplomat.  Other great performances are given by the older men of the bunch, J.J. McCormick, Leonard Kraft, and Don Loftus.

And then there are the actors who shoot over the top.  Bryson Engelen, for example, plays the uptight Juror #4, but he overplays the nerdiness and comes across as a caricature.  Reginald Vaughn also overacts his interpretation of Juror #10, who, in Vaughn’s defense, is oddly written.  Number 10 is extremely prejudiced, but is unspecific about his bigotry.  He is disgusted by the defendant’s ethnic and social background, but we never learn if the defendant is black, Irish, or any other maligned group.  Vaughn has a powerful monologue in the second half where his hatred spouts out, but his target is generalized and hazy.

Douglas’ staging works well considering the limitations.  There’s only so much you can do with a bunch of guys arguing around a table.  Most of the movement feels organic, although there are a few stand-up/sit-down/stand-up moments.  He utilizes Kelly Dailey’s cool 1950’s set very well.  Raven’s production explores the heated moments that happens behind close doors, and it is plenty angry.

More info here.

–Barry Eitel

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