Twelve Angry Jurors by Reginald Rose, adapted by Sherman L. Sergel. Directed by Ron Holgate.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"If that isnít the most fantastic (idiotic) thing I ever heard!"
Mary Jane Hansen, Anny DeGange and John McGuire; photo provided
Reginald Roseís "Twelve Angry Men" was first seen on television in 1954 on CBSís Studio One. It starred Robert Cummings and Franchot Tone as Juror Number Eight and Juror Number Three. Three years later it became a movie with Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb in those roles. More recently the Roundabout Theater Company production sparked new interest in the play.
Originally a one hour television drama, performed live, it became a two hour movie and later a play, first performed in London in 1967. There has been an all-women version and now, at NYSTI, it makes its appearance with a mixed cast, its twelve angry jurors made up of eight men and four women. With the great variety of characters and their characteristics, the show works very well with this new break-down and actually feels quite right for its time.
Closer to the movie script than to the television original, the company has set the play in 1957. It is summer. The jury is brought in to deliberate on the facts in a murder case, one that seems completely open-and-shut. A boy has been tried for killing his father. There is a witness, there is a second witness who heard the argument, the killing and the flight from the scene. There is a knife wiped clean of fingerprints that can be traced to the boy. What more does this jury need to find the accused guilty? All that is necessary is a unanimous vote. The jury votes and there is a single dissenter. So begins the drama. The two acts are continuous - act two taking up at the exact moment when act one concludes.
Juror # 8 is the hold-out. He has questions, he has doubt but it is not yet reasonable doubt. Juror # 3 has no doubt whatsoever about the boyís guilt. Their intense rivalry for the support of the other jurors sparks the play and creates the controversy.
The brilliance of Roseís conceit in this play is the accuracy of his understanding that men and women in a situation like this have their own peculiar baggage to carry. There are prejudices we face in ourselves at the hard moments, those moments of choice. These traits begin to surface pretty quickly in some, take longer to reveal in others. This play deals with those things in the human character that are not always evident.
Itís a wonderful adventure watching twelve strangers begin to open up like rosebuds revealing their beauty and their smells as they do so.
With the entire cast, basically, on stage all the time, this is a truly ensemble work. Were it not for the intensity of the rivalry between #3 and #8 there would be only character studies here, but luckily the author and his adaptor have understood the need for drama. The NYSTI cast, an ensemble company to begin with, are ideal for such a play.
John McGuire, for instance, in the role of Juror #4, is a gentleman who has risen above his station in life and made something of himself and he has an intense refusal within his character to give benefit of doubt to someone who might have once been himself. McGuire is brilliant in such a role. John Romeo as Juror # 10, a man with a summer cold, provides a compact portrayal of someone who can only annoy others with his behavior - again a brilliant portrait by actor and author.
Mary Jane Hansen is Juror # 12, an advertising executive who sees everything in sound bites and quips and she plays this part as though she had been born to play it. Her movements, like her costume and wig, are perfectly in tune with the period and so "Joan Fontaine" that it makes me angry that the Fonda film version didnít cross-cast the piece back then. Carole Edie Smith is a wonderful Juror # 6, elderly and fastidious and trying to do the right thing whatever that may be.
Yury Tyskun as an immigrant with strength of character and an unflagging belief in democracy and the process of American justice is just fine and so is Christy Lee Hughes in the role of a former slum tenement occupant who understands the lifestyle of the people in the case.
Carl Danna and Ron Komora make the most of their two characters, Juror # 9 and the jury foreman. Kevin Craig West is an excellent court guard. Anny DeGange is fine and David Beditz as the impatient Juror # 7 with tickets to "The Music Man" could not be better.
Still, the drama depends on its two antagonists, # 3 and # 8. Joel Aroeste is wonderful as the bitter, prejudiced, angry juror who wants a quick decision that had better go his way or else. Here is a bully, a personality determined to force others to his side and damn the decision, let someone fry. He plays the anger and the hatred for all itís worth. He is formidable.
David Bunce is the ideal # 8. He is slender, feels vulnerable, seems awkward in his need for discussion and investigation into the facts. When he reveals the first surprise in the show, and being a surprise I wonít reveal it, his character suddenly becomes as formidable as that of his rival in the room. From that point onward Bunce lets his characterís strengths and convictions grow exponentially with each question, each gesture of doubt and proofs. Here is an actor at the top of his game in a role that gives him free reign to expand and grow before our very eyes. it becomes easy to understand why Henry Fonda wanted to play this part as we watch Bunce perform it.
Ron Holgate has done a wonderful job directing this ensemble. He hasnít fallen prey to the easy mob understatement of a group force but has kept his actors cleanly within themselves. There are no false steps in their performances and that is partly due to the directorís vision and his skills.
The realistic set designed by Richard Finkelstein and the correct clothing conceived by Robert Anton add to the convincing realism of the work. Even the clock over the doorway keeps time, not something often seen in a stage play. John McLainís lighting is subtle and suggestive as the summer afternoon drifts into evening. Even the artificial light of the overhead fixtures adds to the beautiful concept of the audience as flies on the wall.
Overall, this is a brilliant start to the season for NYSTI. The show deserves a sell-out run.
Ron Komora, Joel Aroeste, Yury Tyskun; photo provided
Twelve Angry Jurors plays at the Schacht Performing Arts Center at Russell Sage College in Troy, New York through October 15. For a complete schedule, or for tickets, call the box office at 518-274-3256.