Stage Centre Productions has a legacy of excellence with the English-language classics, and Twelve Angry Jurors does not disappoint.
One the very first things that happens in Twelve Angry Jurors is striking: the guard locks them in the room. Here they are, four women and eight men, all strangers, trapped in each other’s company until—and unless—they can reach a unanimous verdict. And as they stew in the humid New York heat, as tempers flare up and patience runs short, and as revelations and new discoveries spring forth from unexpected places, it’s only a matter of time until this tightly-sealed tinderbox ignites.
The setting of this play—a trial which might send a man to the electric chair—is only a framework. The real meat of the play is the character drama: twelve jurors, each with their own agendas, some more obvious than others.
Dani Holden, as Juror 6, sinks her teeth into a small part and plays it beautifully, communicating far more than her lines would normally allow. James Marshall does great work with Juror 11, the room’s only foreigner, and—not unsurprisingly—the most vocal proponent of the American Way. Judy Gans, the Foreman, plays exactly the canny, businesslike woman who we would expect from this period.
But this play is really about the leads, and both Frank Keenan (as the independent-minded Juror 8) and Robin Phillips (as the bulldogish Juror 3) are up to the challenge. Keenan’s interlocutor is intellectual and ethereal, and while very persuasive, often appears to be in a different room entirely; in many respects, he is. At the other end of the table, Phillips plays his opponent as a polka-dotted battleaxe, fighting hard and never giving an inch. It’s easy to play Juror 3 as the personification of rage and fury, but while Phillips can clearly hit both of those notes, she brings important depth to the role which makes the characterization substantially more complete. We’ve all met people exactly like her Juror 3—and from an actor, we couldn’t ask for anything more.
The polkadots extend through the well-dressed cast, suited up in Eisenhower-era finery. Skinny ties, church hats, pocket squares and knitting bags, every detail of Pierre Rajotte’s costume design is note-perfect, right down to the brooch on Juror 3’s lapel. The set department (headed by Stephen English and Steven Jackson) provides a wonderfully institutional jury room, complete with stiff windows and mismatched chairs.
The set also delivers a gift to director Tony Rein, who successfully evades one of Twelve Angry Jurors‘ traps: how do you seat twelve actors around a table without all of them ending up on the same side? (Answer: You cheat a little, stage it cleverly, and find at least a few actors who can project and emote extremely well, even when facing upstage.)
Rein’s cast zips through the script at a rapid pace. While a few lines get bitten off in the excitement, this doesn’t really affect the performance: these people would be stuttering and talking over each other, and the speedy clip also helps to gloss over some of the creaky, High School Play-ness of Sherman L. Sergel‘s adaptation, in which everyone waits patiently for their turn to interrupt one another.
While there are some curious directorial choices—do we really need an intermission less than 30 minutes into the show?—the fact that there are twelve distinct characters on the stage is no small feat, nor is the excellence Rein draws out of Phillips and Keenan in particular. But he couldn’t have done it without a talented cast, and like every good character drama, the complete project is better than the sum of its parts.
- Twelve Angry Jurors, presented by Stage Centre Productions, plays until November 17, 2012.
- Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM, with occasional weekend matinees. See website for details.
- Performances take place at the York Woods Library Theatre, 1785 Finch Ave. West.
- Tickets can be purchased online, at the box office, or by calling (416) 299-5557.
- $27.50 for adults, $22 for students & seniors.
Photograph of the cast by Fabio Saposnik.
As the characters in this play are identified by number rather than by name or description, this play is notoriously hard on reviewers: you practically need nametags just to keep the actors and roles straight! If any errors have been made in linking parts to players, I do apologize: leave a note in the comments or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be corrected