An Extraordinary Level of Calm and Tension
Characters don’t come more boldly inspirational than Juror 8 played by the perpetually clever Stuart Hughes. It’s the kind of figure we all dream of becoming—the quintessential questioner—if ever confronted by an against-all-odds situation with a human life at stake.
For this simple reason 12 Angry Men is a deeply reflective, quietly powerful work that is as timely as it is moving. Biases and prejudices collide as stereotypes and closed minds are torn apart. Playwright Reginald Rose’s logic hungering narrative is a thinking man’s crime play which serves as a vivid reminder that the search for truth is a civil responsibility.
The production opens with a dozen jurors retreating to a back room to decide the fate of a teenager accused of murder. With a portrait of guilt brazenly painted with fine strokes by the prosecution, a seemingly simple verdict becomes anything but simple to reach. Factions evolve and bullying erupts in a riveting, visually arresting snapshot of a battle of wills.
What a feat for Stuart Hughes to find a distinct, authentic voice for a role embodied by Henry Fonda in the 1957 movie offering. The actor is too smart to borrow a minute gesture in his depiction of a fact finder who refuses to let probability of guilt outweigh reasonable doubt. It’s an earnest performance that makes you believe hard principals have by no means gone the way of the dinosaur.
A hateful diatribe is unleashed in what’s likely the show’s most abhorrent scene as Juror 10 (William Webster) disintegrates amidst indecision. It’s brash, ugly, and downright unforgivable as remaining jurors isolate themselves to other parts of the room.
And then, finally, a conscientiously defeated Joseph Ziegler as Juror 3 concedes ‘not guilty’ bringing the 90-minute emotional impasse to an end.
A highly sensitive direction strategy by Alan Dilworth attains an extraordinary level of calm and tension throughout the play. With magnificent precision he finds narrow cracks for light laughter but only when absolutely needed.
It’s unanimous: 12 Angry Men is a smart and suspenseful legal thriller that comes completely alive on stage.
Review by Steven Berketo