NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Twelve Angry Men
True Brew Theatre producers
Trish Denmark and Fred
Nuccio, finding their theatre suddenly dark and hanging in limbo between campy comedies, (which have kept their intimate theatre filled to capacity for the last two years and will continue in January with a revival of Carl Walker's hilarious take on Charles Busch's Psycho Beach Party) opted for something serious when they chose to fill it with a jury room drama that began life in the fifties as a Studio One teleplay by Reginald Rose (The Defenders).
But it was the movies and Sidney Lumet who propelled Twelve Angry Men into the nation's conscience and almost won an Oscar for his efforts, along with his producer and star, Henry Fonda, in 1957.
In a new stage adaptation by Sherman Sergel based on a recent ShowTime remake, director Fredrick Nuccio has assembled a sterling cast and given New Orleans a theatrical Event.
The True Brew theatre's terse space gives the charged, and equally terse, melodrama of a jury deliberation of a murder case involving the knife stabbing of a low-life New York City Hispanic by his abused son an immediacy that is absolutely bracing. You Are There directly "in the moment" along with all twelve of these professional actors who are also there, for all 95 gripping moments.
Director Nuccio has cannily made himself Juror #1--the foreman, placing himself at the head of the table. To his left, Juror #2, Linda Hubchen, is the white middle-aged matron. Juror #3, Tom Dugger, is the histrionic one--a loud-mouthed stereotypical bigot bully (a real "dittohead") who embodies the "villain" of the piece--prejudice--as it wrestles with the hero--conscience--in the form of Juror #8, Gavin Mahlie (the Henry Fonda role), the quiet, rational architect whose tenacious,gratious probing slowly illuminates each juror's personal negativity toward the accused--the strident Juror #10, the female equivalent and co-bigot of Tom Dugger's Juror #3, is played to perfection by Tari Hohn Lagasse, turning herself into a coarse broad.
Juror #5, Joe Iuzzolino, imparts a certain white racial Latino sensibility while Kim Patterson's gum chewing Juror #6 lends her youthful innocence which is juxtaposed with Juror #7, Michael Arata's blue collar, macho, white ethnicity--his determination not to miss a ball game colors his flippant condemnation of the accused.
Stocker Fontelieu, Juror #9, and Roy Dumont, Juror #11 add human dignity, open-mindedness and wisdom brought by years of experience, while Juror #12, Barbara Tasker, the only African American, as the only other juror, other than #8, Mr. Mahlie, to be dispassionate and responsible in her jurisprudence, makes the racial subtext palpable, especially in one tense scene between her and Lagasse.
Daniel Zimmer's lighting for True Brew Theatre continues to amaze. He works wonders with this low-ceilinged, claustrophobic space--and the space works wonders with this uniquely American play.
The New Orleans Ballet Association, with the estimable financial backing of Shell Oil, recently delighted the Latin loving portion of its diverse audience with a one-night performance of the Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco.
Working with a company of six dancers with the only musical accompaniment coming from guitarists Jose Valle Fajardo, Roberto Castellon and singer Jesus Montoya and, of course, the percussive emanations from highly trained and efficient hands and heels (sans castanets), Ms. Benitez's brand of flamenco falls squarely in the realm of modern dance utilizing the discipline of this centurys old Spanish folk art to evoke deeply human stories, moods and emotions.
In ten swiftly moving dances, Ms. Benitez, with the technical aid of Cecilio Benitez's sensitive lighting, often through a smoky haze evoking ancient campfires, exhibits her unique brand of flamenco tinged with a balletic sensibility, especially in the two dances in which she stars. The first, Obsesion Oscura, based on Garcia Lorca's poem, "Song Of The Barren Orange Tree" (and replacing the announced House of Bernarda Alba), brings the joyously macho atmosphere of the first part of the concert, established by the preceding dances, including the exuberant opener, Estampa Flamenca, to a moving finale. The dignity expressed in illuminating the heart wrenching and pathetic tale of a barren woman is reminiscent of Martha Graham, especially in the way the performer uses her red velvet dress, hands, and tragic expressions. She cinches her lofty position as a consummate flamenco artist in the second part's Solea - the sun.
The two male dancers, both Antonios-Granjero and Hidalgo-are worth a whole troupe of Michael Flatelys-bringing the already exuberant crowd to near orgasm with their exuberant display of masculine attitude coupled with a prodigious expenditure of energy.
And, although, for the most part, flamenco is about the bitterness of being an outcast (the gypsy roots) and is therefore rather dark, the audience was sent home in a decidedly up mood due to the impromptu encore during the curtain call in which the three musicians were made to dance. The two guitarists were game and physically right; however, it was the rather corpulent singer, Jesus Montoya, who stopped the curtain call and made all those theatre-goers already streaming for the exits stop and take notice. Jesus wowed them.