Twelve Angry Men leaves one happy audience

by Beacon Staff • November 15, 2006

The play follows the story of the dozen men set to deliberate on the murder of an abusive father by his 16-year-old son.,The lights dim, and with the noisy rattling of a train and the sound of soft jazz music floating across the stage, Twelve Angry Men begins.

The play follows the story of the dozen men set to deliberate on the murder of an abusive father by his 16-year-old son. If the men vote guilty, the boy will be executed. At the start of the play, eleven of the twelve have decided the boy is guilty. However, the reasonable doubt of one juror is enough to call everyone's convictions into question.

The cast of 14 is headed by Richard Thomas and George Wendt, and the whole shebang is masterfully directed by Scott Ellis. The original teleplay of Twelve Angry Men was written in 1954 for a CBS drama, but this version was created for the stage by Reginald Rose in 1964.

This is not a light, happy play, despite the occasionally raucous laughter it elicits from its audience. It deals with the hidden and occasionally unconscious prejudices that lie within everyone. If these men hadn't been thrown together and locked into a room for a few hours, they might never have considered opinions opposite to their own. The murder plot is almost secondary to the development of its characters. Some jury members are quite oblivious, completely unfazed that their blatant prejudice is distasteful to the others deliberating.

"You know what they're like. These people are born to lie. They're different. It's just the way they are by nature," says Juror #10. The words are vague, but clear enough to the audience that no matter who they are meant to apply to, they convey blind hatred.

The most recognizable face among the cast of Twelve Angry Men is Wendt, known for his role as Norm Peterson in "Cheers." Despite the acclaim and six Emmy nominations Wendt received for his part in that Boston-based series, his portrayal of Juror #1 feels flat and half-hearted. Even if one forgives the fact that Wendt flubbed his first line, he doesn't seem to contribute much to the group dynamic of Twelve Angry Men. His longest monologue seems panicked and rushed, and not in a good way.

Luckily, where Wendt falters, the rest of the cast excels. Each actor takes time to distinguish the different aspects of his characters. Juror #7, for instance, makes exorbitant remarks about baseball and often cracks smarmy jokes accompanied with a car-salesman smile. Juror #2 nervously slumps over and is perpetually interrupted by his fellow jurors.

One of the most stirring performances in the show is Richard Thomas's Juror #8. All at once, he manages to be quiet and convincing, reasonable yet at some times very unsure of himself. He radiates a stage presence which is incredibly commanding; the audience feels drawn to Juror #8 because he is the most relatable character and is realistically portrayed by Thomas.

He does not come across as a stereotype, but as an actual human being.

There is perhaps a certain element of Twelve Angry Men which must be taken with a grain of salt. It is exaggerated to make a point, but the likelihood of twelve white men serving on a jury who, over the course of a few hours, reveal their prejudices and opinions in such an explosive manner is not entirely believable, even when considering that the play is set in the 1950s.

Still, the effect is remarkable. The audience will leave Twelve Angry Men feeling slightly chastised by the timeliness of the play. While some the issues of the 1950s are different from today's, the meaning behind Twelve Angry Men can be applied to today's hottest topics, like gay marriage and immigration.

The well-staged and mostly well-performed drama will force viewers to think "would my prejudice guide me toward a guilty or innocent verdict?"