REVIEW: Twelve Angry Men (Raven Theatre)

Classic play focuses on shades of gray

12AM horiz 3

Raven Theatre presents:

Twelve Angry Men

 

by Reginald Rose
directed by Aaron Todd Douglas
through April 17th (more info)

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Reginald Rose, the author of the classic teleplay turned movie turned play Twelve Angry Men, was no stranger to controversy. He used his storytelling talents to take on big social issues—including abortion and McCarthyism—at a time when standing on the wrong side of such issues could be career poison. Still, despite his viewpoints, he managed to find work at all three major television networks, a feat rarely accomplished by even the most passive and innocuous scriptwriters of today.

12AM vert 1 I’m sure personal connections may have played some role in Rose’s success in light of his opinionated nature, but there’s no doubt that his ability to write moving and emotionally charged prose helped. After all, how easy is it to make twelve men arguing in a hot and muggy room compelling?

The Raven Theatre’s production of Twelve Angry Men takes Rose’s seminal work and gives it some updated twists in an effort to add a contemporary spin. No longer are we watching 12 angry white, predominantly middle-class men puff their chests. This cast is interracial, adding Latinos, blacks and even a man of Asian decent to the mix to provide new subtext for an audience that lives in a society that is far from post-racial but has moved beyond the days of sit-ins.

The play centers on the jury deliberation in a murder trial. A teenaged boy from the slums of the city stands accused of killing his father. If convicted, the boy will receive a mandatory death sentence. The jury of 12 take a show of hands to see who falls on the side of guilty and not guilty. While many are expecting an open-and-shut case, one lone juror (C.L. Brown) votes not guilty.

Incredulous scoffing follows, but once the man is given the floor to speak, he begins chipping away at the prosecution’s evidence. As holes are poked in the case, jurors begin flip-flopping. Still a few stubborn men hold their ground. Gridlock sets in, people reach their boiling points and personal prejudices reveal themselves.

Whereas the original play’s all-white jury was a stark contrast to the non-white defendant, the choice to use a multi-racial cast in this production softens the play’s focus on the issue of race. Instead, it conveys the message that bigotry is colorblind while playing up prejudice based on class. For example, the phrase “those people,” which is used frequently by the black bigoted Juror #10 (Reginald Vaughn), seems to refer to people from urban slums regardless of race. This neither improves upon nor detracts from the play. Rather, it merely infuses new meaning.

12AM horiz 1 Wrangling a cast of 12 actors is no easy task, but director Aaron Todd Douglas does a fine job of managing all the bodies. The juror table is long enough to give each actor some room to occupy his own space, allowing the audience to see the men as individuals rather than a dense mob. Subtle actions also convey characters’ masked emotions. For instance, as the play advances, jurors begin to pace, stand and move about the room with greater frequency, a sign of escalating tension.

Brown is astounding as the defective Juror #8. He is calm, cool and collected without coming across as smug, an easy pitfall for an actor playing the character. Dan Loftus as Juror #3, one of the hardest eggs to crack in the room, also does a stellar job. His final monologue is tense and heartfelt. He’s not a villain. He’s just proud to a fault, and Loftus makes sure never to muddle this distinction.

As impressive as the performances are overall, Juror #10’s melodramatics are cringe-worthy. Throughout the play he delivers his lines with the pacing of someone reading from a piece of paper. Only when he dials his anger to the highest setting is it convincing. The rest of the time the acting is fairly transparent. It’s a shame he has such a key role as the prejudiced juror.

Twelve Angry Men’s relevance relies on the context of the times. Raven Theatre has taken a classic and altered it for a contemporary audience. The jurors who remain married to their opinions for no rational reason might be compared to today’s “Party of No” attitude, while class may prove to be more of a hindrance than race. Despite some questionable acting, this production does a good job of bringing these themes to the surface.

Rating: ★★★

 

12AM horiz 2

4 Responses

  1. […] Todd Douglas: Twelve Angry Men – Raven Theatre  (review ★★★) Michael Menendian: Death of a Salesman – Raven Theatre (review ★★★½) […]

  2. […] educator (check out Barrel of Monkeys Theater); Bryson Engelen, an actor whose production of Twelve Angry Men just won the coveted Outstanding Ensemble Award at the Jeff Awards; and John Boller, another U of C […]

  3. […] Photo from last season’s critically-acclaimed Twelve Angry Men. (our review) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: