Reginald Rose’s play Twelve Angry Men has stood the test of time, for good reasons.
Through all of its iterations — as a 1954 teleplay, a 1955 stage work, a 1957 Oscar-nominated film, a 1997 made-for-TV movie, several star-filled stage productions — the power riveting conflict among a dozen jurors deliberating the fate of a 16-year-old accused of murdering his father hasn’t diminished at all. Times may change, but human nature doesn’t, and the characters in Rose’s play exemplify the best and the worst in us.
New Theatre, now based at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay, is largely focused on producing new work. But every so often, the company produces a play it considers an “American classic,” and this season that play is Twelve Angry Men.
Set in a New York jury room on a scorching day in 1957, the play uses the convention of having disparate, sometimes volatile characters confined together with no way out. Here, there’s one way: They must reach a unanimous verdict in the trial of a 16-year-old charged with stabbing his father to death.
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Anyone who has served on a jury, particularly one in which a defendant is facing the death penalty, will be familiar with the mosaic of emotions Rose portrays in Twelve Angry Men. These jurors, identified by numbers rather than names, are by turns reasonable, combative, persuasive, aggressive, open to argument, defiantly prejudiced. One life has been taken and, depending on the jury’s decision, another may be. So the stakes are enormous, though not all of the men treat the case that way.
Director Ricky J. Martinez has cast his production well, largely with seasoned South Florida actors who bring out the qualities and quirks of the various jurors.
Clinton Archambault gets the plum role of Juror #8, an architect who is at first the lone holdout against a quick guilty verdict, a decision that seems obvious to the others. The character is a kind of moral compass, yet Archambault doesn’t play him as a construct but as a thoughtful, reasonable man who won’t let pressure keep him from fulfilling his life-or-death task.
Stephen Neal turns in a volatile performance as his chief antagonist, Juror #3, at times sputtering so much that his words get twisted. The jury’s angriest man is a controlling, domineering type who has alienated his own son. In ways both conscious and not, he’s personalizing the conflict between the defendant and his abusive father.
As the bigoted Juror #10, Glenn Hutchinson doesn’t hold back in giving voice to bias, spewing the man’s comments about the nature of “those people.” Though the race and ethnicity of the defendant isn’t specified, it’s clear that in this play (which could have just as easily been titled Twelve Angry White Men), white male privilege is a filter through which several characters see the case.
Bill Schwartz gives a wonderfully loose performance as the wisecracking Juror #7, a man seemingly more concerned with finishing deliberations in time to go to a baseball game than in seeing justice done.
Each of the other “jurors” — Jerry Jensen as the foreman, Steven A. Chambers as the soft-spoken Juror #2, John Dennison as the focused Juror #4, Gabriel Bonilla as Juror #5 (a guy from the defendant’s neighborhood), Joel Kolker as the working-class Juror #6, Gene Bunge as Juror #9 (aka the “old man”), Dave Corey as the German immigrant Juror #11 and Brian McCormack as the indecisive Juror #12 — effectively paints in the various colors of Rose’s script. Chris Boike, who plays the odd-man-out guard, tries to invest the character with more weight than the playwright intended.
The performance space is small, surrounded on three sides by the audience, so set designer Nicole Quintana necessarily has to resort to partial walls and windows in order to give everyone an unobstructed view, though that choice gives the ‘50s-era jury room a bit of a ruined look. Lighting designer Eric Nelson helps underscore the sense of the uncomfortable summer heat that adds to the tension in the room. Sound designer Matt Corey adds to the ambiance with his music choices, and he rustles up a thunderstorm on cue.
Twelve Angry Men takes the audience into the jury room to experience, warts and all, a vital part of America’s justice system. We see the process, start to finish (though an unnecessary intermission interrupts the building conflict). Written more than half a century ago, the play is vintage, but it remains vital.
If you go
What: ‘Twelve Angry Men’ by Reginald Rose.
Where: New Theatre production in the Lab Theater at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay.
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday (no evening show Feb. 8), through March 1.
Cost: $26 in advance, $31 at the door.