Review: Tense two hours at 'Twelve Angry Men'

05:00 AM, Jan 14, 2013

Jamie Burrows, Jeff Moon (Gates), Kevin Indovino, Ted Wenskus, Roger Gans and Chris Woods Marlin perform in Twelve Angry Men at MuCCC. (ANNETTE DRAGON//Photo provided by John W. Borek Pr)/

Written By Leah Stacy

If you go

Twelve Angry Men.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Where: MuCCC, 142 Atlantic Ave.
Cost: $20; $15 for seniors and students ($10 in advance).

For audiences looking to brush up on civics and even take in a legal debate, Reginald Rose’s court classic Twelve Angry Men, produced by John W. Borek at the MuCCC, may be just the thing to break up bouts of cabin fever.

Rose originally penned Twelve Angry Men for the Studio One anthology television series on CBS. Since it aired in 1954, the story has been adapted for the stage and film as well as produced all over the world, from high school auditoriums to the Great White Way.

Between the jurors onstage are 12 votes, 12 neckties and 12 pairs of shoes — some carefully waxed, others thrown carelessly beneath slacks. Twelve handkerchiefs to mop the summer sweat from brows furrowed in scrutiny of the case at hand.

Mr. Leonard (Stephen Elliott) wants to see a ballgame that night. Mr. Cheffins (Chris Woods Marlin) is doodling ideas for his latest ad campaign. The others complain of the heat or murmur quietly among themselves.

But it’s Mr. Henderson (Roger Gans), in the role Henry Fonda played in the 1957 film version, who shakes up the jury’s chambers by suggesting the possible innocence of a 16-year-old boy who will get the electric chair if he’s convicted of stabbing his father with a switchblade.

The play revolves around the legal principle of reasonable doubt, which is only satisfied if there is no logical explanation pulled from the evidence except the defendant’s guilt.

What begins as watercooler talk quickly becomes a detailed rerun of the court case, this time with new evidence. It’s soon clear that this will be a battle of wills and the unveiling of each man’s individual prejudices, kept at bay during the silence of the court’s proceedings.

To convict the boy, the jury must reach a unanimous vote. In a case they all assumed would be open and shut, Henderson votes not guilty.

What follows is 90 minutes of intense debate peppered with a few laughs and serious character development. Director Michael H. Arve has chosen a cast of 12 men who play their roles as though they were made for them.

There’s no set change and no intermission. The men move from their 12 seats to make impassioned speeches or demonstrate a piece of evidence.

But a large part of this play is carried by the ideas in the script and the vocal execution of the actors playing each role. Tone and facial expressions build suspense. There’s commendable nuance from each member of the cast, but especially from Mr. Turner (Andrew Cowan) and Mr. Prescott (Jonathan Wetherbee).

Jeff Moon’s portrayal of the contrary Mr. Atwater — so vehement at times that audience members muttered their dislike for the character aloud — is a shining revision of the traditional antagonist.

Ted Wenskus stepped into the role of the jury foreman, Mr. Spindleman, just a week ago and shows impressive abilities to build character in such a short time.

Another standout is Mr. Hawkins (Don Bartalo), who delivers an impassioned speech about one of the witnesses as empathy plays across his face. Sitting at the same table is Mr. Charnowski (endearingly portrayed by Ed Scutt), who perhaps summarizes the play best:

(Fair trial) is one reason we are strong,” he says. “We should not make of it a personal thing.”