Lakewood Playhouse mounts a wonderful production of 12 Angry Men, a story about 12 jurors, all men, who are discussing the guilt of a young man, charged with the murder of his father. He has the death penalty hanging over his head and the jurors are to decide his fate. If you’ve seen the 1957 movie with Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb, you are at least slightly familiar with the story.
As the play opens, all we see is a jury room with a long table and 12 chairs around it. The audio then is of the judge giving the jurors their instructions. Then they file into the room and take a chair based on their juror number. Number one is the foreman. He calls them to order and then all 12 votes guilty or to acquit with reasonable doubt. There are 11 for guilty and 1 for not guilty.
The pivot of the play and the moral conscience of the group is juror 8 (Bruce Story-Camp), an architect who wants to discuss each piece of the evidence to reach a true consensus and conclusion.
Many of the jurors vote guilty right off because they hadn’t really thought about what the “evidence” really means, or if it’s even really true. One juror, number 7 (Bob Reed), who has tickets for the Yankees-Cleveland game that evening, wants to get out right away, so he votes guilty, again and again. Juror 3 (Christian Carvajal) we come to find out is upset about his own son’s disrespect and thinks the defendant needs to be punished. Juror number 4 (James Clark) grew up in a slum. According to juror number 10 (Ronnie Hill), slums are full of “the other” people and is the breeder of killers; those other people, they’ll take over our country, they’ll out breed the right people.
Juror 8 wants to judge the dependability of the witnesses and the truth of the suppositions about each exhibit. He doesn’t tell the other jurors that they’re crazy or stupid; he just opens up the discussion. The jurors begin one by one to refer to their own experiences to judge the truth. For instance, juror 5 grew up in a slum. He had used switchblade knives in his youth and was able to enlighten the others in the usual ways to use them.
Juror 8 is beginning to gain a consensus among the jurors, to solicit their thoughts, not just their emotions, about the evidence. This is a skill found in effective teams and groups of people who may or may not be in agreement from the start. Civility and respect is the base of the consensus. There is even a corporate team building training DVD based on 12 Angry Men called Twelve Angry Men: Teams that Don't Quit.
James Venturini’s scenic design is very evocative of the ‘50s court design: workmanlike, only what’s needed, no frills, no real comforts and just bare bones white bathroom tile, sink and roller towel. The heat and humidity are intolerable and the room’s fan doesn’t even work.
Alex Lewington’s costume design was realistic. Each juror’s clothes were evocative of his vocation and personality. The architect and stockbroker wore summer weight suits; the salesman wore a Hawaiian shirt and straw golfing hat; the young Hispanic man wore a yellow dress shirt and tan slacks; the Jewish watchmaker didn’t wear a yarmulke, but he did wear a cotton vest over his shirt.
One nice thing about this production is that we saw actors that we’ve seen in other productions, at both Lakewood Playhouse and other theaters. Even costume designer Alex Lewington was familiar to us. When we had our video production studio downtown, she did voice-over work for us and our clients. It’s always nice to see a familiar person’s work.
The next day after we saw 12 Angry Men, we went to Theatre on the Square and saw one of the soldiers from the LPH previous production of Pride and Prejudice.
At Theatre on the Square, we saw a staging of August Wilson’s ittsburgh series of a decade by decade century of the lives of freed slaves migrating north after the civil war. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone covered the first decade of the 20th century. Their lives were fraught with vulnerability and danger. Tim Hoban, the traveling salesman in the production, was the character Chick Hunter, a simple man in search of his identity and a girlfriend, on the cable show we produced, The Spud Goodman Show.
12 Angry Men runs at Lakewood Playhouse through March 16, 2014. Go to Lakewood Playhouse at 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd SW. Go online at lakewoodplayhouse.org or call the box office at 253-588-0042 for information and tickets to see this wonderful production. The next production of LPH is The Odd Couple from April 18 to May 11.