Lock twelve men of diverse backgrounds in a cramped room on a hot New York summer day and watch the emotions rise to match the mercury in the thermometer.
Playwright Reginald Rose has successfully drawn this picture in his powerful play, “12 Angry Men,” the current production at the Lakewood Playhouse.
The men are the jury of a 17-year-old youth who is accused of murdering his father. There are witnesses – eye witnesses from a distance. There is a motive – the deceased was a hard, abusive man. There is a unique weapon tied to the accused. There is a weak, non-confirmable alibi.
But most important, there is one juror who listened to the judge when he admonished the jury that if they had a “reasonable doubt,” they must return a verdict of not guilty.
This one man had the reasonable doubt; only he. The only not guilty ballot cast at the beginning of the play. What happens during the ensuing brief two-hours is a study of each jury member’s reaction to that one man’s suppositions.
“Men” is a tight show nicely directed by Victoria Webb, who manages to place each of the 12 actors visible to most of the audience in the in-the-round, intimate theatre.
James Venturini’s set is the inside of the Jury Room, complete with a 12-chair conference table, one outside window – unsuccessfully draped to help keep out the heat – and a washroom. The set creates the claustrophobic feeling needed for this strong play.
Dylan Twiner does the limited lighting design; Nena Curley does sound. Both have given the play a nice little summer thunder storm. Costume Designer Alex Lewington does a good job with the 1950’s wardrobe.
Webb has found 12 of the better actors in South Puget Sound to handle the multi-faceted characters. These men have no names – only juror numbers.
Being a truly ensemble cast, each man has a “lead” role in its own right. That is to say, that each actor has his “moment in the sun,” some get a bit more tanned – some even sunburned – but all things are equal and all cast members add to the intensity of the piece.
There are two minor roles: that of the Voice of the Judge, played by V. J. Orduna, and the Guard nicely played by Connor Tibke.
James Wrede is the Jury Foreman. Wrede does a very good job of trying to keep the peace between the men while maintaining his own emotions within himself. He plays the Foreman as a fair man who deserves the title.
Jacob Tice players Juror #2 as a man who has little concern about the trial until questions posed by the protagonist are raised; then his interests come into play.
Christian Carvajal makes Juror #3 the antagonist who sees the boy guilty without a doubt, as his own son is guilty of estranging himself from his father. Carvajal is filled with anger toward his son, which spills over to encompass the accused. He is quite believable in the role.
Joseph Grant is the implacable Juror #4. Grant is the epitome of cool – the stockbroker who is not even bothered by the unbearable heat. Grant gives a truly dignified performance defining his character to perfection.
James Clark is Juror #5. Clark plays the young man from the city slums knowledgably with quiet understanding, building an apt characterization.
Jed Slaughter plays Juror #6 as a simple, unimposing, middleclass man who seems a bit overwhelmed with the task laid upon him.
Bob Reed is Juror #7. Reed plays the sports fan as someone who is eager to get things over with quickly so he can make it to the ball game for which he has tickets and will vote with the majority just to go on his way.
Bruce Story-Camp is Juror #8, our protagonist. Story-Camp makes his character as an even-tempered person with only one thing on his mind – he has a reasonable doubt. In order to justify his doubt, Juror #8 replays the testimony over to the chagrin of many of the others, thus angering them. However, in the end, his commitment to truth and justice win out and his doubts are vindicated. Good work
Curtis Beech is a charming Juror #9. Beech gives this quiet, soft-spoken older man the outward appearance of a pacifist – not only leery of an altercation but squeamish of disagreeing with the others. However, as he mentally re-weights the evidence, Beech becomes his own man, standing up for right. Nice job.
Ronnie Hill is Juror #10. Hill has given #10 a cold to make his character obnoxious with his spraying germs while waving his sputum-soaked handkerchief about. Hill gives #10 a “Hail-fellow-well-met” attitude and only toward the end of the play lets his bigotry escape into a tirade. Hill has one of the stronger characterizations of the cast.
Michael Dresdner plays Juror #11 as a methodical person who makes no small talk, yet contemplates and mulls over the evidence before opening his mouth and pronouncing his conclusions to the other jurors in an eloquent fashion. Dresdner is quite believable in the role.
Dennis Worrell is Juror #12, an advertising executive. Worrell makes him the cliché of all ad men with his slick, wise-cracking characterization.
“12 Angry Men” continues at The Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, just behind the Pierce Transit Bus Depot through March 11, each Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There is a pay-what-you-can actor’s benefit performance scheduled for Thursday, February 27 at 8 p.m.
For more information or reservations, call the box office at (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.
The heat, the powerful arguments strip away the veneer covering the emotions of the “12 Angry Men,” layer by layer finally revealing each man’s conscience while finding truth and reality. This is a good production of a powerful play. Don’t miss it.