Reginald Rose’s 1954 teleplay adapted by him for the stage is a perennial staple for theatres ranging from high school productions to professionals. Sometimes staged as 12 Angry Jurors to accommodate women, the Pasadena Playhouse reminds of the prejudices and other issues that have plagued society, especially pre-civil rights USA, for years. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s grimy scenic design and appropriate costumes take the audience directly into the barren jury room on a hot and muggy New York day.
Shadows of Henry Fonda as Juror Number 8 from Sidney Lumet’s 1957 Oscar nominated feature, or, the ’97 version directed for television by William Friedkin with Jack Lemmon as the lone detractor are cast long and wide. Initially, eleven of these men are anxious to bring back a quick conviction of the fifteen year old kid accused of stabbing his father to death. In Pasadena Playhouse Creative Director Sheldon Epps’ production at rise we find Jason George as Juror Number Eight, thoughtfully poised, gazing out a window contemplating the task he and eleven other men, six white and the other five also black, have before them. The program cover and the ad posters set the scene. It’s six against six. The Caucasians vs. The African Americans. White vs. Black. Unfortunately, on this special opening of the play, the issue of Diversity is being celebrated but the stereotypes, especially for the Caucasians are simple and superficial. This is a wonderful play that speaks to the issues of prejudice, ageism and impatience. Each of the jurors is well developed, even the huge bully, Juror Number Three, Gregory North, whose height and bulk are literally loaded with weight and substance. Why an equally intimidating African American might not have been cast in this pivotal role is never discussed, but it seemed to me that the casting certainly exhibits some questionable stereotypes of the Caucasians in word and deed while each of the African American jurors fielded the issues with a more patient and thoughtful demeanor.
|(L-R) Gregory North, Adam J. Smith, Bradford Tatum, Robert Picardo, Jason George. Photo by Jim Cox.|
The innocence or guilt of the defendant, whose name we never know, but is characterized by one of the white jurors as ‘one of those people’ who are plotting to over run the United States, hangs in the balance as Number Eight begins to ask questions. Though it’s all hear-say to the audience, we become jurors as well, as the ‘facts’ unfold. Juror Three exclaims that the 'facts' get all twisted around. It’s an open and shut case, isn't it?!
Juror Four, Robert Picardo, is a long time hold out whose actions are vital to the deliberation. Rose uses subtle hints to aid Juror Eight as he casts doubt on the "open and shut case." Of course, the most important issue in any criminal trial is to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Rose has constructed a situation that has won him high acclaim over the years and for good reason. His characters work. Why, in this effort to bring diverse casting to the Playhouse, women and/or other actors of color and age were not considered is a shame. To simplify the battle over guilt and innocence in this basic black/white all male cast, has deprived us of a real opportunity for diversity.
Scott Lowell, as the Jury Foreman, has his work cut out for him. Challenged at the get go by other jurors and getting them to all sit down at the table took some doing. Difficulty in hearing the senior member of the jury, Adolphus Ward as Number Nine and trying to coordinate the numbers of the other jurors with their actor selves makes writing about individuals difficult. Suffice it to say that the play holds up. The tensions and dramatic beats are well choreographed by Epps as the story moves along. Each of the other jurors: Number Two, Jeff Williams; Five, Jacques C. Smith; Six, Ellis E. Williams; Seven, Barry Pearl; Ten, Bradford Tatum; Eleven, Clinton Derricks-Carroll and Twelve, Adam J. Smith have their specific moments that shock, sustain and enliven the well mounted event.
TWELVE ANGRY MEN
By Reginald Rose
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Ave,
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tickets and Information:
Phone: (626) 792-8672
Through Sunday December 1, 2013