BWW Review: 12 ANGRY MEN at A.D. Players
12 ANGRY MEN started life as a 1954 television drama, and then a year later became a proper stage play. In 1957 it was turned into a landmark movie starring Henry Fonda and directed by Sidney Lumet. Over the years theatre companies have taken the simple story of a jury debating a murder case and done all sorts of variations. Women have been added to the cast and the show renamed 12 ANGRY JURORS, and some productions have made the jury a racially diverse group. Much has been done to update the script, and more often than not the show is played with for a modern audience. The rebellious thing that A.D. Players has done with this production of 12 ANGRY MEN is to ignore all of that, and they return the show to its roots. It is simply 12 white men who look and speak as if they came out of 1954, and they are debating the guilt and innocence of a young man who is a different race than them. They smoke, they say offensive things about other cultures, and they remind us how little has changed in the past sixty years since the play was conceived. Hats off to director Jennifer Dean who has recognized Reginald Rose's script still has a lot to say to people today. She has assembled an incredibly talented cast, put them on a gorgeous set in period costumes, and let the piece talk to a 2015 audience without any alterations or apologies.
Kevin Dean plays juror #8 who is the first to question the innocence of a young boy on trial, and the show hinges on his ability to convince 11 other men that there is a reasonable doubt in the case. He does this quietly, and never pushes his points over the top. It is a simple and reserved performance that works well. In contrast Rutherford Cravens is all bluff and bluster as juror #3, and he proclaims the assumed guilt of the boy in shouts that rattle the rafters. It is these two men that make up most of the play's conflict, and they are up to the challenge.
The supporting cast includes nice turns by several of the other men. Marion Arthur Kirby gives grace and poise to juror # 9, and he stands out among the ensemble. Jason Bergstrom and Braden Hunt look like they stepped out of an episode of MAD MEN, and they both do a nice job of capturing the '50s feel and tone. Jeff McMorrough, Marty Blair, and Mark Roberts seem to understand the rough nature of the guys they are embodying and provide nice counterpoint to the slicker citizens. Ted Doolittle, Philip Lehl, Craig Griffin, and Ric Hodgin round out the jury and add their wholly realized characterizations to the piece. There are no weak links, and it is an ensemble that A.D. Players should be quite proud of.
Mark Lewis designed the set, and it's amazing to look at and rich in detail. It's simply a sterile jury deliberation room in an NYC courthouse, but the detail and execution are stunning and quite professional. Patty Tuel Bailey has also done an admirable job in getting the look right with the clothes of 12 ANGRY MEN. Technically everything works, save for some rather unconvincing electronic cigarettes substituting for the real thing for the comfort of actors and audiences.
12 ANGRY MEN reminds us how little has changed over many decades, and it still has so much to say to audiences about prejudices and how our legal system works. A.D. Players was wise to dust it off and present it without any tweaks or turns to make it more modern. It seems powerful and revolutionary to see a jury made up of traditional white men deciding the life and death of someone not the same as they are inside of two hours. This is an awesome experience, and the production packs the same punch it probably did when the televised script first aired. In her notes in the program Jeanette Cliff George meditates on the wonder of newness, and here we have a perfect example of something quite old feeling new once again because the world needs it.
12 ANGRY MEN runs through September 27th at the A.D. Players theater on West Alabama. The box office can be reached at (713) 526-2721 or through the web site at www.adplayers.org