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Theater Review – ’12 Angry Men’

Theater Review – ’12 Angry Men’

Produced by Theatre Three – Port Jefferson

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur


Anyone who’s ever participated in, or otherwise observed a murder trial in this country, has undoubtedly realized that the process consists essentially of four key phases. They are: Selection of a Jury (or a judge if it’s a ‘bench trial’) … Presentation of Sworn Evidence by a prosecutor to aid that deliberative body (or arbiter) … Rebuttal by the accused’s defense counsel … and finally, Evaluation of the Evidence by the jury (or judge). The action in the acclaimed Reginald Rose play, ‘12 Angry Men,’ is limited to the final jury discussion procedure.

Because a jury’s verdict in American homicide trials must be unanimous, these cases offer a uniquely compelling opportunity for high drama in the private confines of the Jury Room … especially since the ‘stakes’ are always incredibly high … often resulting in a life sentence for the accused … or worse. That’s the situation which evolves as playwright Rose brings together his ‘12 Angry Men’in a nondescript New York City courthouse in the ‘50’s.

One of the most interesting aspects of this production derives from the fact that it is a courtroom drama wherein the audience never sees the inside of the courtroom itself … all of the action takes place in the deliberation room where only the dozen diverse adjudicators are present. The facts of the case are revealed in the panelists’ clever dialogue and body language, and we soon come to learn that no two people are quite alike when it involves evaluating evidence or meting out justice.

Another fascinating touch which Reginald Rose has brought to this humdinger of a show is the fact that the twelve jurors are never referred to by name; only their numbers … one through twelve … are used to identify them. This has the effect of lending an appropriate anonymity to the ‘12 Angry Men,’ and as we get to know their characters, ‘2’ becomes synonymous with ‘meek’ … ‘3’ proves to be ‘stubborn’ … ‘9’ comes to stand for ‘wise’ … and so forth. Things are all quite beguiling (not to mention stuffy) in that sweltering room where even the air conditioner is broken. But never mind … everything else works just fine under the capable leadership of convincing protagonist, Juror 8, played by Theatre Three veteran, Steve Ayle.

This breathtaking drama got its start as a live teleplay in 1954 (yes, I admit that I recall the debut). The highly acclaimed Henry Fonda film followed three years later, and the play itself finally made it to the legitimate stage when Broadway’s Roundabout Theatre mounted the show at the American Airlines playhouse in 2004. Since then, the iconic psychological drama has introduced aficionados to some of the best dramatic dialogue ever written. It is safe to say that Reginald Rose has proven himself a master of legal intrigue. Acting giants who have starred in Rose’s masterpiece include E.G. Marshall, Franchot Tone, Lee J. Cobb, George C. Scott, Edward Arnold, and Jack Klugman. Similarly, some of Long Island’s finest male actors (Michael Newman, Jack Green, and Steven Uihlein) appear with Ayle in Theatre Three’s current production.

This has got to be among the toughest of plays to direct; it’s no secret that eleven of the twelve jurors are ultimately flipped during the proceedings in that uncomfortable old barn of a room where they haggle, curse, and physically threaten one another. Heavens to Betsy, it’s difficult enough to show one hard-headed adjudicator changing his mind believably under the type of circumstances playwright Rose establishes … but eleven? Our hat is off to director Bradlee E. Bing for managing so effectively to chew the big chunk he’s bitten off.

As always, Randall Parsons’ set is near-perfect, and the costumes and lighting under Teresa Matteson and Robert W. Henderson. Jr. respectively are appropriately unobtrusive. This is a fine, superbly paced show that should not be missed.



 Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library in May. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com


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