Well-made things stand the test of time — including the acclaimed 1954 play Twelve Angry Men.
With a script so good it won both the Drama Desk Award and Edgar Award, the jury-room drama by Reginald Rose has attracted actors the stature of Henry Fonda, George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon for various film and stage versions.
Audiences have also been enjoying it for more than 60 years. And they did so again on Thursday night at the Scott Block, when Rose’s fascinating study of human perceptions, principles and prejudices enthralled a small, opening night crowd.
The Red Deer Players production deserves a much wider audience as it’s loaded with exceptional performances, rising tensions and great pacing, established by director Lori Lane.
The themes are about the danger of making assumptions and the importance of overcoming personal biases to ensure the proper carriage of justice. But let’s put aside thoughts of Twelve Angry Men being a dry, behind-the-scenes drama.
It’s more like a courtroom version of Lord of the Flies.
Locked in a room without air conditioning, these jurors get in each other’s faces. They posture, bully, inflame and intimidate. They even come close to slugging it out during their protracted deliberations.
At stake is the life of a poor, 19-year-old Hispanic kid who’s accused of stabbing his father. While his fate is being heatedly debated, jury members are also jockeying for position in that pressure-cooker environment, in which even the (open or shut) status of a window incites anger.
On one side is high-minded dissenter Juror No. 8, played by Robert van der Linden (taking on the role popularized by Fonda in the Oscar-nominated 1957 film). He believes the prosecution’s case is far from air tight and there’s a reasonable doubt that the youth is not guilty.
On the other side is Juror No. 3, a businessman, portrayed by Nigel Lane, who is seething with an irrational rage. He’s convinced the accused is a killer and deserves the death penalty.
Between the protagonist and antagonist stand many other believable characters who may remind us of people we know.
There’s bigoted Juror No. 10 (Albert Azzara) who hates Hispanics, Juror No. 7 (Derrek Seelinger), who’s mostly interested in making it home to watch sports.
There’s rational, analytical Juror No. 4 (Jason Lee), soul-searching Juror No. 9 (Lionel Lustgarten) and glib Juror No. 12 (David Weiss).
There’s also Juror No. 11 (Gertjan Zwiggelaar), who emigrated to the U.S. from Germany, and reminds us that free speech is a right that must be extended to those with differing opinions.
Rose, who wrote the play after serving on a real-life jury, created naturalistic dialogue and true-to-life conflicts. There are funny moments in his drama, as well as some uncomfortable ones that expose human frailty, vanity and insecurity.
Lori Lane must be applauded for rustling up a dozen male community actors in the first place, and then for helping them realize dimensional characters.
Although some actors could have jumped in quicker with their lines, the entire cast — including Owen Clark, Keith Edwards, Tom Brushett, John DeGuara, and Vicki Dykes — have earned praise for a job well done.
Theatregoers will find anger to be entertaining in Twelve Angry Men, which continues to June 20. The last play of the season is also one of the year’s best.