By Reginald Rose
Directed by Aaron Todd Douglas
At Raven Theatre
Still potent courtroom drama well acted and timely
Raven Theatre, under the tight direction by Aaron Todd Douglas, presents an emotional wrenching production of the classic court room drama, Twelve Angry Men. Douglass uses a modern, interracial cast, including several African-Americans, Latinos and an Asian-American. That added a sharper edge to the drama especially Juror #10 goes off on a bigoted tantrum about “all those people.” Douglas’ interracial cast explorers the levels of bias within and between races making this production relevant in the 21st Century.
Even if you’ve seen the 1957 film staring Henry Fonda, this smart production is powerfully acted by a cast of solid non-Equity character players. Kenneth Johnson players Juror #1 and the Foreman; Steve Herson is Juror #2; Dan Loftus is Juror #3 (Loftus’ emotional explosion in a marvel turn). Bryson Engelen is Juror #4; Fernando “Mojo” Albiar is Juror #5; Dwight Sora is juror #6 and Eddie Ddiaz is Juror #7.
C.L. Brown is juror eight—the person whose analytical probing leads to a confrontational deliberation by all 12 jurors. Brown is quite convincing as the glib, thoughtful open-minded juror. Since the case at hand is a murder trial where the jury can only choose innocent or guilty and that verdict will either lead to acquittal or to the death penalty, the deliberation is wrought with soul-searching drama. J.J. McCormick is Juror #9; Reginald Vaughn is the fiery Juror #10; Leonard Kraft is Juror #11 and Ron Quade is Juror #12
The case seems ‘open-and-shut’ the 16 year old boy apparently stabbed his father to death after dad slapped the boy in a rage. Kenneth Johnson, as the jury foreman, is determined to have order and a quick deliberation. The initial vote is 11 for guilty and 1 for innocent (C.L. Brown’s juror eight is the lone holdout). Slowly, Brown asks questions that cast doubt about the boy’s guilt as he argues the mere possibility that testimony from eye witnesses may be wrong, thus casting “a reasonable doubt” as to guilt.
We see the frustration among most of the jurors as most minds are closed to any possibility of the teen being innocent. Lead by Brown’s juror eight, the heated debate ensues as hidden preconceptions and assumptions are questioned. Once each juror realizes that they could send a 16 year old to his death, they must face themselves and their conscience. The brilliant writing (many call Twelve Angry Men the greatest courtroom drama ever) by Reginald Rose cleverly weaves facts and testimony with keen observations from several open-minded jurors into a complex cobweb that will have you on the edge of your chair wondering what will happen next. The biases and prejudices of several narrow-minded jurors emerge and add to emotional depth to the factual arguments of the case. The terrific cast delivers their characters with gradual, and often times, burst of temper as the pressure moves from conviction to acquittal. Standouts, besides Brown, were Dan Loftus, Reginald Vaughn and Bryson Engelen.
Twelve Angry Men is a timely, riveting drama that will get you thinking about your preconceptions and stereotypes. It is a reminder that we must question apparent facts before making tough decisions. Raven Theatre has another fine production worthy of an audience.
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL, call 773-338-2177, www.raventheatre.com, tickets $25 – $30 ($5 student/senior discount), free parking, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 100 minutes with intermission, through April 17, 2010