12 ANGRY JURORS

STANDING ROOM ONLY THEATRE, October 26th - November 4th, CBC Studio 700

My Two Pence

My Two Cents

                                         

By Penny Warwick

12 Angry Jurors sees Standing Room Only Theatre Company continue to bring interesting stories to the Vancouver stage. The plot revolves, unsurprisingly, around a court case and the deliberations that occur as we are allowed to be flies on the wall in the discussions room.

As the audience waits for the lights to dim we are faced with a minimalistic set which has flipped the CBC Studio 700 space. The twelve individual desks set neatly in a line are juxtaposed by the disarray on and around them; knocked over pencil tins, chairs pushed over or left out of place, scribbles of paper bunched up and behind the desks a large board on which the juror’s declaration is written out in chalk. A guard arrives and swiftly but precisely re-sets everything in perfect order as the play begins, and then we see the hodge-podge of characters file in in a believable display of a mixture of apathy, boredom and irritability.

It is a slow starter. The staging (while a brave choice by director Sean Anthony) is disconnecting. The recommended staging for the show is in the round, whereas here the characters all sit at their desks facing towards the audience and pointedly look to certain direction when addressing each other (with the exception of those immediately seated beside). A feat which undoubtedly in rehearsal must have taken some time to establish. Unfortunately, it does not work. The "directioning" of the eyelines is inconsistent, and as an audience member I found it increasingly frustrating to try to figure out who was speaking to whom and whether looks of indignation or irritation were directed at someone else or whether a character was just engaged in a thousand yard stare.

There were some truly poignant moments when the characters did infact directly act with each other in a traditional sense; notably in the confrontations between continued aggressor Chris Walters and Jonathan MacDonald, and later with Brett Willis, all well appointed in their roles. Other stand outs within the cast are CTC-nominee Mandana Namazi and Christine Reinfort who both show experience and depth within their roles.

Interestingly the other women tend to fall into caricatures – when looking at our supposed cross-section of female society we have the “slutty” one, the “over-confident” one, the “old” one, the “boring” one, the “foreign” one and the “smart” one; which the costuming choices only aided in magnifying. The male section, in contrast, was a homogeneous mix of shirt and tie combinations. I am not sure how much of this was from the book and how much from the interpretation, but visually it really was a curious combination.

Ultimately I enjoyed the performance, the majority of the cast was solid and the technical elements while simple were wholly effective. However, I found myself wishing for more of the human connection between the characters which would elevate the moments of conflict, make the audience empathize with the moments of despair and ultimately be more deeply moved by the the conclusion which is a culmination of all the twists and turns experienced along the way. There is much potential here and cudos has to be paid to a director who takes on the nightmarish task of staging this in any sort of fully successful way. You can tell that this is a play adapted from a teleplay script, and with that in mind, Standing Room Only Theatre Company have made some bold choices here and put together an unusual and provocative show.

By George Duncan

12 Angry Jurors begins with a stern looking bailiff, played by Leah Ringwald, cleaning away clutter and organizing a jury room for 12 peers of a man on trial for murder. Ringwald erases the chalk on the blackboard from the last jury deliberation with an awareness of what lies ahead for the jury about to assemble. She hollers to the group that it is okay to come in, and the 12 women and men are locked in, tasked with the responsibility of deciding the fate of a young man charged with the murder of his father. The audience becomes a fly-on-the-wall as the 12 jurors begin to deliberate. The jurors decision must be unanimous, and after the first vote the jurors are shocked to hear there is only one not-guilty vote. Tensions begin to build, jurors are pushed to their breaking points, and the different personalities begin to clash.

            The play was originally adapted by Sherman Serge for the Reginald rose TV show, and in 1957 was made into the movie “12 Angry Men”. Presented by the theatre company, Standing Room Only, this modern take on a classic story offers a fresh look with Szutka’s decision to cast women as seven of the twelve jurors. Vancouver’s abundance of skilled actors is on full display with 12 incredibly strong performances. Not a weak link in the cast.

            Juror #8, played by Brett Willis, becomes the moral compass who guides the other characters through their noble journey back to their moral centres. One of the younger cast members Willis forcefully guides the jury through the difficult process. Juror #3, played by Chris Walters, is the counterweight to the tempered, straight-laced temperament of Juror #8. Walters delivers a stunning performance of a brash, middle aged father who sounds like he’d be more at home on the third baseline of a Boston Red Sox baseball game than in a jury room. Juror #11, played by Mandana Namazi, shares a unique perspective as she reminds us not to take our freedom and democracy for granted. The melting pot of talented, and diverse characters gently simmers, as the heat and tensions rise in the jury room, finally boiling over making 12 Angry Jurors a must see.

“The story that lurks deep within every individual is one

that yearns to be told”

(www.standingroomonlytheatre.org/about)