Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Laguna Playhouse Presents A Gripping “12 Angry Men”

The men’s suits are right out of a 50’s playbook, the haircuts are dated, the ties are pencil thin, and most of the men wear hats and some vests. (Kate Bergh).

Of the men filing into the Jury Room one is an immigrant watchmaker, two are African American, one is a certified bigot, one a irritated and glib baseball fan, one a banker, one an architect, one in stocks, one in advertising, one a spurned parent, one runs a messenger service and one a garage owner.
John Massey and cast of "12 Angry Men"
This is the makeup of the men in Reginald Rose’s classic Oscar nominated 1957 Film “12 Angry Men” which was based on the original 1954 “Studio One” television drama, before it was adapted to a stage play in 1955.  

With pinpoint direction by Michael Matthews, it is now in a no holds barred production at The Laguna Playhouse through Oct. 22nd.

Twelve men from very different backgrounds, cultures and leanings file into a jury room in New York City in 1957. The set designed with accuracy by Stephen Gifford with one long board table, twelve chairs, a coat and hat rack, a water cooler with paper cups, a broken fan, a clock, pencils pads, three windows looking out to the city and three large florescent lights, and off to the side a washroom with two sinks.

All the action takes place in this confined area. There is no intermission and as the jurors are locked in the jury room, we are all rivited in our seats as the jury room drama unfolds.

After listening to the case (for three days) of a young boy accused of stabbing his father with a unique looking switch blade, and two witnesses, one an infirm older man and the other an elderly woman who may or may not have had her glasses on at the time she claimed to have seen the stabbing, the men must decipher the evidence and decide whether or not the boy is guilty. If so, he gets the chair. It’s mandatory. The boy is 16.

“If there is a reasonable doubt, you must bring me a verdict of not guilty. If there is no reasonable doubt then you must in good conscious, find the accused guilty.”

Foreman (Matthew Henderson) sets the stage. Juror 7 (John Massey) “Let’s vote. Who knows maybe we can all go home.”

 The first count, by a show of hands: 11 guilty, 1 not guilty. 

Sast of "12 Angry Men" at Laguna Playhouse
And so the conversation, racially based confrontations, accusations of anger, and cross talking begins when Juror  #8 (Seamus Denver) does not raise his hand. After some consideration and many cross explinations and examinations, the paradigme shifts.

#10 (John Colella) “Boy Oh Boy! There’s always one.”

 #8, “I don’t know whether I believe it or not. Maybe I don’t.” “There were eleven votes for “guilty”. It’s not easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.”

Rose’s courtroom drama is set in the 50’s but if you closed your eyes and just listened to the dialogue, you would swear that you were in the present.

Each of the jurors had a preconditioned idea of the boy’s innocence or guilt even before they entered that jury room, so when the you- know -what hits the fan, it suddenly becomes about personalities rather than a crime that might or might have not been committed by the accused.

Matthews keeps the conversation going most times but there are quiet moments that let time for reflection set in. The actor’s movements are in constant motion whether going to the rest room, taking a drink, looking out the window, slapping the table, slumping over the table, chewing gum or as Juror # 10 who has allergies blows his nose like a fog horn and refers to the boy as ‘those people’.

Whether walking from one end of the room to another, wiping their foreheads, standing, sitting, lunging at each other or checking and writing on their ballots each character has his unique personality and it shows through in spades.

The ensemble work here is exemplary and each one of the jurors has a chance to stand on his convictions, some with more passion than others. (Juror #3 Richard Bergi gives a bravo performance as a father who has lost his son to his own ignorance. Afraid his son might not be manly enough when he ran away from a fight as a kid, his son ran away from home when he was 16; ‘rotten kid’).

Andrew Barnicle #9 a man past his prime, hunches and tired looking is oft overlooked as a person to be listened to.

Juror # 11 David Nevell not a U.S. born American but definitely honors the rules is dismissed as being different and gets spurned by #7 (John Massey) bringing out the fact that his is an immigrant.

Juror #5 Dennis Renard an African American who also grew up in the slums as did the accused. He’s on the fence for a while. Reasonable doubt?

Juror # 4 (Rick Cosnett) seems above it all, cool and unemotional is the most rational. But it is Juror #10 that exhibits the most rage and racism before he’s asked to shut up! Fortunately for all 12 there is a lesson to be learned here.
Richard Burgi and Seamus Denver with Cast of "12 Angry Men". 
In a society where there is so mush noise and not enough quiet time to listen to others, the jury room must be a haven for honest discussion. Men and women’s lives depend on it. Would that we all were in a mind to listen first and possibly be willing to see and acknowledge another’s opinion? Imagine.

Excellent theatre is just up the road a bit at The Laguna Playhouse. It's worth a try.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Oct. 22nd
Organization: Laguna Playhouse
Phone: 949.497.2787
Production Type: Drama
Where: 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Ticket Prices: $45.00-$80.00
Venue: Moulton Theatre
Web: lagunaplayhouse.com
Photo: Ed Krieger


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