Review: Acrosstown's ‘12 Angry Jurors' maintains that ripped-from-the-headlines feel


The drama “12 Angry Jurors” with, from left, Danielle Pagliara as Juror 3 and Chantz Chick as Juror 8, continues through Aug. 25 at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, August 15, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 at 4:29 p.m.

Was anyone surprised when O.J. Simpson walked away from his murder trial with a not guilty verdict? You bet.

Facts

‘12 Angry Jurors'

What: Jury-room drama adapted from Reginald Rose's play, “Twelve Angry Men”
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 25
Where: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 S. Main St.
Tickets: $10 general admission, available at Sweet Dreams Ice Cream Westgate location and at the door 30 minutes before showtime
Info: 234-6278, Acrosstown.org

After all, the whole world had followed his abortive freeway “getaway” live and on sky cam. What innocent man acts like that after his wife's slaying?

And what about Casey Anthony? She must have done it, right? How could a jury give her a pass on her daughter's killing?

George Zimmerman? He had the gun, Trayvon Martin had none. Open and shut, right?

Such presumptions come all too easily. In an age of cameras in the courtroom, gavel-to-gavel coverage and live “expert” analysis on cable, viewers can sit at home and imagine themselves proxy jurors, parsing the evidence, weighing opposing arguments, passing judgment.

But no one can know what goes on inside the jury room save the jurors themselves. It is the criminal justice system's version of the sanctity of the confessional.

Reginald Rose's teleplay “12 Angry Men” was written nearly half a century ago, but that account of what unfolds inside the confessional of the jury room in the aftermath of one “open-and-shut” murder trial is as relevant today — and perhaps even more so now that trials have become the stuff of reality TV entertainment — as ever.

Sidney Lumet's 1957 production of “12 Angry Men” is an American cinematic classic; less a courtroom drama than a morality play about the ultimate triumph of reason over hasty presumption, impatience, petty prejudices and outright bigotry.

And that morality play maintains a ripped-from-the-headlines feel in the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre's fast-paced adaptation “12 Angry Jurors.”

Indeed, it is impossible to watch that onstage clash of personalities and the gradual juror-by-juror conversion from presumption of guilt to reasonable doubt without wondering what must have gone on in the Simpson, Anthony and Zimmerman jury rooms.

There are a dozen actors on stage, 13 if you count the oppressive heat that hangs over the jury room (fans are available as you enter the theater) like an executioner impatient for a quick verdict so he can get on with his death work.

And it should have been quick work indeed. The condemnation of a young man accused of killing his father would have been perfunctory but for the reluctance of one juror to too quickly summon the executioner based on what he saw and heard in the courtroom.

Watching that single juror patiently, methodically and doggedly insinuate reasonable doubt into the seemingly closed minds of each juror, one after the next, is what makes “12 Angry Jurors” worth the price of admission.

Rose purposely eschewed naming his characters, assigning them only numbers to reinforce the anonymity of the jury room. And so trying to keep track of who's who in this ensemble cast can be a bit frustrating.

As Juror 8, the pivotal character in this drama, Chantz Chick has the most complicated and challenging role; a character famously brought to life by Henry Fonda in the 1957 production. A newcomer to ART, Chick does a yeoman's job but seems a bit young and a tad uncomfortable as the patient persuader who understands that he holds a human life in his hand.

Director Tyler Leeps took a chance in casting a woman as Juror 3. As originally portrayed by Lee J. Cobb, Juror 3 is a bombastic thug who tries to physically bully his fellow jurors into sending a kid to the chair. To her credit, Danielle Pagliara puts everything she has into projecting an air of physical and mental belligerence. Yes, she would pull the switch, given the opportunity.

Steve Bates does a nice turn as the soft-spoken, unassuming Juror 9, who is the first to be swayed by Juror 8's arguments. And as Juror 4, determined to render an objective verdict, Paul Dickhaus wears his presumption of cold logic as comfortably as his fitted business suit.

Jessie Jacobs has the toughest role of all as Juror 10, the bigot whose obsessive rants about “those people” ultimately cause other jurors to turn their backs in disgust. She soldiers on gamely in the doing, but one gets the impression that Jacobs is as embarrassed by her ranting as her fellow jurors are revulsed.

And the only actor without a number, Wayne Thompson, does a capable job as the button-down foreman determined to maintain a semblance of civility among quarrelsome jurors even as he occasionally loses his own temper.

The kid did it, of course. Or did he?

Ultimately, viewers of “12 Angry Jurors” are left to wonder what they would decide if thrust into the oppressive heat of the criminal justice confessional.

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