Entertainment » Theatre

12 Angry Men

by Rachel  Breitman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Mar 26, 2012
"Twelve Angry Men" at Keegan Theatre playing through March 31
"Twelve Angry Men" at Keegan Theatre playing through March 31  (Source: Jim Coates)

The setting of the Keegan Theater is the perfect venue for "12 Angry Men." The space is small, bare, and somewhat claustrophobic, as is the play, set in 1954 in a jury room in the Bronx on the hottest day of the year. The set design has a convincingly spare look, with just a windowless brick wall for backdrop.

Set in the midst of the Red Scare, playwright Reginald Rose's story deals with the biases and stereotypes that Americans hold towards one another. In this hour-and-a-half, intermission-free drama, 12 men face off against three, while they debate the innocence of a boy accused of murdering his father, and in the process break apart assumptions about one another.

As costumed by Erin Nugent, the men manage to each stand out and make their characters seem individual and yet authentic in an era that prized uniformity. Particularly well dressed for the part is advertising executive Juror #12 (Jon Townson), who looks as though he walked right off the set of "Mad Men."

The American "melting pot" of this drama is shockingly white, with only a male nurse who grew up in the slums and a bespectacled German immigrant to add a sense of diversity. But unspoken in the story is the fear that rises from a country in transit, unable to hold onto its fairy tale past without confronting some of the dark truths in its presence.

Several hot-blooded actors lend fuel to the fire in nameless characters that collide in a tiny jurors' quarters. The sweaty, greasy-haired, immigrant-hating Juror #10 (Mark A. Rhea, who is also the set designer) stirs the pot amply, bringing out surprising rage in even the most contained characters.

Unspoken in the story is the fear that rises from a country in transit, unable to hold onto its fairytale past without confronting some of the dark truths in its presence.

As the only man who admits to having grown up poor in the slums, Juror #5 (Andres Talero) offers a twitchy anger as he hears the increasingly mean-spirited diatribe of Juror #10 against all who aren't American-born.

Finally, it is surprisingly the cautious and rules-oriented stockbroker Juror #4 (Kevin Adams), who puts an end to Rhea's bigoted tirade, with a line that was not in the original script, but brought the audience to their feet in applause.

As the play's antagonist, Juror #3 (David Jourdan), brings impressive pathos to a role that could otherwise appear one-note and belligerent. Faced with divisions in his own family, he projects his anger at his son on the young boy accused of murdering his father. His breakdown at the end provides the story's climax, and he helps us believe that he really experiences an emotional catharsis that allows his character to make a major change of heart.

Director Christopher Gallu coaxes some particularly strong performances from the minor characters in the script as well. Under his guidance, the more subtle side characters prove just as powerful in their reserve, such as the precise and idealistic Juror #11, a German watchmaker (Mike Kozemchak), and the elderly and soft-spoken Juror #9 (Richard Jamborsky).

The only one who fails to deliver is the protagonist, Juror #8 (Colin Smith), who lacks the unwavering fervor and empathy that Henry Fonda provided in the 1957 movie classic. He is missing the charisma and passion necessary to be believable as the man who single-handedly changes the minds of each of his peers, all of whom assume immediately that the young boy on trial must be guilty.

"12 Angry Men" runs until March 31 at the Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St NW. For info or tickets call 703-892-0202 or visit http://keegantheatre.com/

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