12 Angry Men

By: 
Ben Miles

Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men” began as a teleplay initially broadcast in 1954. In the subsequent year Rose adapted his television script for the stage. In 1957 it was again adapted by Rose for the big screen, becoming a hugely profitable film starring Henry Fonda.

Now this classic courtroom drama is being mounted by the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach, through Oct. 22. Effectively directed by Michael Matthews, with spot-on stagecraft (Stephen Gifford, scenic design; Kate Bergh, costuming; Tim Swiss, lighting design; and Mike Ritchey, sound engineering), this staging of “Twelve Angry Men” is loyal to the mid-century period in which it was written and initially produced.

The play’s focus is on the deliberations of a jury in a homicide trial. When the jurors first enter the deliberation room to decide the fate of a 16-year-old accused of killing his father, the first roundtable vote finds eleven of the jury members casting votes in favor of a guilty verdict. There is one hold out, Juror 8 (a dignified and intelligent portrayal by Seamus Dever); he doesn’t necessarily believe the defendant to be innocent, but he does have a “reasonable doubt” as to the teenager’s guilt.

The stakes are ratcheted up by the judge’s orders (heard in a voiceover convincingly delivered by David Nevell, who also embodies the character of Juror 11) that if the defendant is found guilty, which requires unanimous agreement among the deliberators, a sentence of death is made mandatory by state statute.

After much arguing and parsing of the evidence and circumstances the jurors, one by one, change there minds until at last there is one holdout in favor of a guilty verdict, Juror 3 (intensely played by the magnetic Richard Burgi), who conflates the unresolved issues with his own estranged son with the teen on trial. 

In 96 minutes this blast to the jurisprudence of the past resonates with relevance, such as when Juror 10 belittles facts as things that can be twisted and stretched, therefore, making them fungible and unreliable.

“Twelve Angry Men” (other iterations of the script have been titled “Twelve Angry Jurors,” “Twelve Angry Men and Women” and “Twelve Angry Women” to provide for  multi-gender casting), offers a thought provoking premise and a sterling cast of character actors, which also includes Matthew Henerson as Juror 1 (who’s the panel’s foreman); Mueen Jahan as Juror 2; Rick Cosnett as Juror 4; Dennis Renard as Juror 5; Tony Sancho as Juror 6; John Massey as Juror 7; Andrew Barnicle as Juror 9; John Colella as Juror 10; Erik Odom as Juror 12; and Daniel Berlin as the bailiff. All deliver realistic and credible portrayals. The verdict is in: Laguna Playhouse’s “Twelve Angry Men” is guilty of making jury deliberations entertaining and relevant. 

TWELVE ANGRY MEN

Written by Reginald Rose

Directed by Michael Matthews

Runs through Sunday, Oct. 22

Performances Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 2 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 1 p.m.

Laguna Playhouse is at
606 Laguna Canyon Rd. in Laguna Beach

Tickets: $45-$80 visit www.lagunaplayhouse.com or call (949) 497-2787.

ben@beachcomber.news

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