Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
A New “12 Angry Men”: a classic reimagined, again
When the Pasadena Playhouse announced they were going to produce Reginald Rose’s classic “12 Angry Men,” I admit to being of two minds. On the one hand, this play is a time-honored and extraordinarily manipulate-able classic with terrific character parts. On the other, those very aspects mean it has been done and done and done, everywhere from TV (where it was born) to high school drama programs, to Broadway, in many different permutations. Knowing that the Playhouse is rarely about simple revivals, what else can be said about this piece?
What director Sheldon Epps has done is a two-fold adaptation. First, it is updated to the modern era thus losing much of the automatic tension created by its original hot, non-air-conditioned setting. Second, the cast – though still all-male – has been evenly divided between Caucasians and African-Americans, creating a different kind of tension. With the exception of a momentary cliche, this works, and the results contain all the intensity one expects when putting twelve men in a room together and locking the door.
Essentially, the “12 Angry Men” make up a jury. Post trial, they are locked in the jury room to decide the guilt or innocence of a teenaged boy accused of stabbing his father to death. Each brings his or her own baggage. None wants to be there. When they are challenged to look at the case more deeply, their scars, prejudices, and occasionally nobility, begin to surface.
Epps has collected an impressive cast, and, with them, created an intensity which keeps the drama in high gear. All twelve men work so well together in ensemble it becomes difficult to point to standouts, as each character – defined and specific as he may be – weaves tightly into the whole.
Still, particularly memorable are Jason George, whose direct and commanding chief protagonist is the one man in the group initially taking the concept of “reasonable doubt” most seriously. As his strongest adversary, Gregory North vibrates alpha male as the one person most deeply convicted of the boy’s guilt. Adolphus Ward gives the oldest man in the room a kind of worn dignity which rises as the show progresses, while Bradford Tatum typifies the citified red neck and most intractable and prejudiced of the crew.
By and large, the tale proves as riveting as always – perhaps more so, given the added racial overtone. Still, one could wish the casting had involved one switch, as the only cliche moment in the piece comes as the vote is split down the middle along a racial line. Yet, I cannot fault any performance as a performance, and the whole outweighs this single moment.
“12 Angry Men” always made the case for the quixotic nature of juries as applied to the death penalty. As much a thriller as a human drama, it will keep an audience who doesn’t already have the play memorized on the edge of its seats. What makes this particular production so attractive has to be the fact that knowing the ending does not in any way make the process of getting there any less involving. Certainly it is worth the watching, the acting is so very good.
What: “12 Angry Men” When: Through December 1, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays Where: The Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $38 – $72 Info: (626) 356-7529 or http://www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org