Reviewed by Shelly L. Hoffman
Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men was first presented in 1954 as a teleplay, and was then adapted for the stage by Sherman L. Sergel. Today, it is often staged with women as part of the jury and retitled 12 Angry Jurors. It is this version that is currently running, under the direction of Connor Klee, at Clio Cast & Crew’s Theatre 57.
It’s a familiar story to many. A jury is locked in deliberations around a homicide case. A young man is on trial for the murder of his abusive father and the jury must decide if the 16-year-old boy is to live or die. It appears to be an open and shut case, but Juror 8 (Jane McMillan) doesn’t quite see it that way. She finds holes in the prosecution’s case that lead her to have reasonable doubt. She pleads with her fellow jurors to at least spend an hour talking about the case. The boy’s life, after all, is worth an hour of their time. The jurors begrudgingly acquiesce.
Juror 10 (Pat Blondin) refers to the accused as “one of those people.” He remarks that they get drunk and think nothing of killing one another and that they are animals. He’s concerned about their “breeding” habits and worries that “we” will soon be outnumbered by “them.” While it is never explicitly stated who those people are, it can be inferred that they are a marginalized group, perhaps the poor, or recent immigrants, or people of color (or all three). Whatever the case, it is clear that this juror approaches his task with a great deal of prejudice and hate. The verdict appears to be a forgone conclusion only because the accused is representative of a certain type of person, not because the case has been soundly made that he is a murderer.
There are many dated cultural references, but the story itself is timeless and could be set in almost any age. It seems especially apropos of some of the tensions we are currently experiencing in this country, and Clio Cast and Crew should be applauded for staging this show and shedding light upon our ongoing struggle with institutional racism. It’s actually quite startling to realize that this script, from six decades ago, is so relevant today.
The heavy-lifting in this show is done by Juror 8. While McMillan starts out slowly, she does find her groove in a couple impassioned speeches and she manages to keep the show moving. It’s a difficult piece, though, that depends on rapid-fire dialogue and strong characterizations, and this production simply falls flat. Actors, for the most part, do not connect with their characters in an authentic and meaningful way. They appear to stand up, sit down, and move from point A to point B without embracing any sort of motivation and only because they were directed to do so. The cast also struggled with cue pick-ups and lines, many of which were delivered without any conviction or nuance. Lengthy pauses for line recall marred the night.
The dialogue presents some clues as to the time period in which it is set, but the costuming and hair create confusion. Some of the women’s costumes are suggestive of the 1950s. Most of their hairstyles, on the other hand, are not. Furthering the confusion are the men’s suits which are very definitely contemporary.
There are some bright spots. Jessicia Smith, as the meek and mild adjudicator, Juror 2, bucks the trend and delivers a character who is at once lively, textured, and endearing. Director, Klee, makes good use of the stage and moves his actors around well, creating many finely structured tableaux. Additionally, the set, with its institutional walls and wood trim, helps to alleviate some of the uncertainty around the time-period; it is functional and virtually anachronism-free.
While this particular production is weak, the central message, conveyed by Juror 8, that “no matter where you run into it, prejudice obscures the truth,” is a powerful one that is well worth spending two hours exploring.
Audiences can explore the themes of 12 Angry Jurors as it continues at Clio Cast & Crew’s Theatre 57 (2220 W. Vienna Rd.) on Sunday May 10 at 2:00 pm and next weekend, Friday, May 15 and Saturday, May 16 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, May 17 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $14 and can be purchased by calling the box office at (810) 687-2588 or online at cliocastandcrew.com