BWW Review: Drayton Entertainment's Captivating Production of 12 ANGRY MEN Touts a Stellar Company and a Frighteningly Relevant Story
If you are looking for a master class in acting, look no further than Drayton Entertainment's production of 12 ANGRY MEN currently playing at the Huron Country Playhouse II in Grand Bend. Not only are the performances stellar, but there is also something equal parts thrilling and horrifying about how much this play resonates with today's audience. It is horrifying that so little has changed when it comes to the risk of the influence of prejudice and racism in the criminal justice system, but it is also thrilling that this exceptional piece of theatre still has the ability to reflect the good the bad and the ugly of the world back onto the audience in a way that challenges us to be better.
This play, written by Reginald Rose, and likely most familiar to audiences because of the 1957 film of the same name, follows 12 jurors as they deliberate on a seemingly open and shut murder case and confront their own prejudices in the process. With the play taking place entirely in one location, it is a testament to the script, the performances, and the direction by Marti Maraden that this piece is utterly enthralling from beginning to end. The set design by Allan Wilbee is inventive and effective as he finds a clever way for the audience focus to shift from the goings on in the jury room to side conversations in the adjoining restroom.
When the play begins, it appears that every juror has decided that the accused-a teen-aged person of colour that we never see and only hear about-is guilty. It is then that Juror #8 played by Skye Brandon chooses to speak up and share that he is not yet convinced. Juror #8's quiet resolve to give this man a fair trial is a beacon of hope in a world that has become increasingly jaded. Brandon's portrayal of this measured and patient man, steadfast in his convictions is wonderful. So much of his performance is done with his eyes. It's as if you can look right into them and see nothing but a desire for truth and justice. Sitting two seats down from him is Juror #10 played by Brad Rudy, who gives an equally captivating performance. Determined to convict the accused, and clearly influenced by deep seeded racist beliefs, Juror #10's monologues sadly could have been sound bites pulled directly from some of rhetoric that we are hearing out of far right US media these days. His words are already deeply upsetting, and this realization makes it all the more impactful. Maraden's direction of how each of the other jurors physically reacts to a particularly disgusting monologue from this character is so brilliantly done because we as an audience can see ourselves in the men who leave the room or keep their heads down, or look out the window just wanting it all to end...But we can also take inspiration from the characters who say something, who make it clear that they do not share this man's opinions, and who challenge the basis for everything he is saying. This play very much feels like a call to action for audiences to choose to be the latter.
As I watched Mr. Rudy take his bow at curtain call, I thought about the emotional energy that this role must require-especially considering the aforementioned rhetoric we are hearing in the news each day. His performance is equally as important as Brandon's in eliciting a full emotional reaction from the audience, and I cannot imagine the toll it must take.
Every single performance in this production is excellent. To name a few...Keith Dinicol plays the oldest juror, who is initially looked down on by many of his peers for his age, but who quickly becomes invaluable for the experience, attentiveness, and respect that he brings to the deliberation process. Thomas Duplessie portrays the youngest juror who is initially perhaps intimidated by his elders, but who finds his voice when he realizes his own upbringing is not unlike that of the accused. Benedict Campbell plays the most stubborn juror of the bunch. His biases are different from those of Juror #10, and are more personal in nature. He has been hurt so deeply by his own son that he is willing to let a potentially innocent man be sentenced to death in order to exact an unconscious form of revenge.
Lastly, Jeffrey Wetsch is excellent as the collected, rational and independently thinking Juror #4. There is a scene in the restroom between his character, Rudy's Juror #10 and Campbell's Juror # 3 that provides an understated but crucial depiction of the different reasons why these three very different characters are sticking to their 'guilty' vote. This play is not afraid to venture into the murky grey areas of life by providing rich, complicated characters that very much resemble people we all know.
This is perhaps one of the strongest pieces of theatre I have seen in quite some time. It is one that should not be missed.
12 ANGRY MEN continues at Huron Country Playhouse II in Grand Bend until August 3. It will then play at the Hamilton Family Theatre in Cambridge from August 7th until August 24th.
Photo Credit: Darlene O'Rourke.