949.497.ARTS (2787)

Highly Entertaining Morality Play for Modern Times Dramatizes Democracy

BY ED RAMPELL
TWELVE ANGRY MEN Theater Review
The jury is not out and the verdict is in: Laguna Playhouse’s production of Reginald Rose’s Twelve
Angry Men is “guilty” as charged of being an excellent, tautly written, directed and acted drama.
Suggested by Rose’s own stint serving on a jury, Twelve goes behind the scenes to watch the jury
deliberations of a dozen men over what appears to be an open and shut homicide case in New
Yawk City. They are in a rush to leave the sweltering jury room – as in Spike Lee’s Do the Right
Thing, also about racial injustice, it is literally the hottest day of the year – and the weary men want
to leave the courthouse, go home, to a Dodger game (in Brooklyn, not Chavez Ravine – this is a
1950s period piece), etc.
But with the death sentence hanging over the teenaged defendant – a minority (unspeci􀃗ed which
ethnic group he belongs to in this production) – Juror # 8 (Seamus Dever) proves to be the lone
holdout. An architect, the sole dissenting vote on the 􀃗rst ballot, steps up and bravely holds forth
in this gripping one-acter, as he strives to sway the other mostly eager-to-leave 11 jurors to
consider that there may be reasonable doubt. Will he prevail?
Throughout the around 90 minute play, the jurors’ personal prejudices come to the fore – racism;
bias against immigrants; father-son animus; a simple-minded love of baseball (John Massey’s droll
Juror #7); and more. All this causes a majority of the jurors to have a presumption of guilt – instead
of innocence.
Like Henry Fonda in the classic 1957 􀃗lm adaptation of what had originally been Rose’s Emmy
Award winning teleplay on Studio One, Dever conveys Juror #8’s essential decency as he forces
mob justice to stand down and back down. Another standout in the superb cast is Richard Burgi,
who portrayed the same enraged Juror #3 Lee J. Cobb had played opposite Fonda in the big screen
version.
With its theme of guilt by innuendo and suspicion, the 1950s-set Twelve Angry Men can be viewed
as a veiled critique of the then-prevailing Hollywood Blacklist and McCarthyism, which permeated
America with an uneasy, widespread climate of distrust, paranoia and fear. If this reviewer
remembers correctly, in the 1957 movie version the murder suspect is Hispanic, and as such this
evergreen drama takes on renewed meaning for the Trump era, as Latinos and other ethnic groups
are vili􀃗ed and increasingly coming under attack.
Scenic designer Stephen Gifford and costume designer Kate Bergh expertly transport us back in
time to the 1950s – even if this story remains disturbingly fresh. Tightly directed by Michael
Matthews, Twelve is still a perfect dramatization of democracy, crackling with tension, relieved by
occasional humor. Entertainment at its best – Laguna Playhouse’s high octane production keeps
your butt on the edge of your seat and your mind fully engaged, in high gear. Beyond a reasonable
doubt, if ever a drama deserved to be held over, it’s this one.
welve Angry Men is playing Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., plus 2:00 p.m. on
Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. through Oct. 22, at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna
Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. For more info: (949)497-2787;
www.LagunaPlayhouse.com.
Film historian/reviewer Ed Rampell is co-organizer of the Oct. 27 70 Anniversary Commemoration
of the Hollywood Blacklist (see: https://www.generosity.com/fundraising/hollywood-blacklisttribute).
Rampell is co-presenting V.I. Pudovkin’s documentary The End of St. Petersburg on Sunday, 4:00
p.m., Oct. 29, 2017 at The L.A. Workers Center, 1251 S. St. Andrews Place, L.A., CA 90019. This is part of
the ongoing “Ten Films That Shook the World” series celebrating the centennial of the Russian Revolution,
taking place on the fourth Friday of each month through November. For info: laworkersedsoc@gmail.com.