12 Angry Men at 30 by Ninety Theatre through September 13
Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men may be over 65 years old, but in our current age of overwrought passions, distortion of facts, and demonization of the “other”, this courtroom drama remains as timely as ever. Mandeville’s 30 by Ninety Theatre (880 Lafayette St.) is wise to present it now.
Originally done on TV in 1954 during television’s Golden Age, it went on to be adapted into an Oscar-nominated movie directed by Sidney Lumet in his cinematic debut and memorably starring Henry Fonda. While it had its belated Broadway premiere in 2004, the stage version had already been a staple of schools and community theaters for many years; it was last seen in New Orleans in 1998.
We never learn the jurors’ names but as they deliberate over the fate of a young man accused of murder, their personalities come into focus, particularly Juror 8, the Fonda role, who, at the start, is the only one not convinced of the defendant’s guilt. As he finds discrepancies in the prosecution’s case, the script is so expertly crafted that, even if you know how things are going to turn out, you’re likely to be on the edge of your seat.
For 12 Angry Men is not merely about a case in which the lawyers didn’t do a very good job, though that’s certainly part of it (and which is entirely believable to anyone who’s served on a jury). Nor is it just a terrific David and Goliath set-up in which the rightness of one ultimately beats the presumed might of many.
Rather, 12 Angry Men asks if decency and fairness can prevail even if, or especially if, the person being judged has a lower societal status than his supposed “peers.” Rose may stack the deck a bit, but it’s so satisfying to see reason triumph and bullies who don’t win.
Director Andrea Elu has chosen to use Sherman L. Sergel’s adaptation which keeps all the contours of Rose’s original script even if leaving out some of its nuances. (Sergel has also done a 12 Angry Women adaptation which I’d be curious to see.) Clocking in at 90 minutes, Elu has paced the production briskly while always allowing the various plot points time to sink in.
As the deliberations evolve, Elu mostly overcomes the staging challenge of having a jury table in which a number of the actors’ backs will, of necessity, be facing the audience. And if the first act finale could’ve built more organically, Elu makes up for it in a second act layered with dramatic tension.
Displaying a contemplative mien, Gordon Carmadelle properly invests Juror 8 with the moral conscience of the play. Carmadelle allows us to believe that this juror could think that the defendant may be guilty, just not “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Emotionally honest and intellectually rigorous, Carmadelle enables an audience to understand how he could win over his fellow jurors.
Barrett Baumgartner is appropriately officious as a smart, professional businessman; he may be keen to convict but at least can be swayed by irrefutable logic.
Jason J. Leader is excellent as Juror 3, a tough guy whose prejudices and own personal baggage cause him to be blind to the facts. This character’s underlying psychology may be a bit simplistic, but Leader infuses him with a raw heat that overcomes that.
Tom Hassinger whom I last saw in 2007 in Natalie Needs a Nightie, for which he was nominated for an Ambie Award, brings an understated matter-of-fact edge to his virulent racism as he repeatedly refers to the defendant’s ethnic group as “those people” and tells the other jurors that “you can’t trust them.” That he can casually toss off this hatred, occasionally tempered by a “some of them are good” comment, makes it all the more chilling. In addition, by downplaying Juror 10’s bluster, Hassinger wisely differentiates himself from Juror 3; in some productions they come off as too similar.
All the other Jurors turn in admirable performances with Raleigh Ohlmeyer’s Juror 9 fully conveying the vibe of a fed-up New Yorker, the city where the play seems to be set. Just don’t laugh when Gary Ranatza’s Guard enters the jury room and says “I heard some noise” shortly after a heated argument has occurred; when I was on a Manhattan jury many years ago, the judge said virtually the same thing to us. And with good reason.
30 by Ninety has numerous protocols in place to ensure the comfort and wellness of its audience, cast, crew and staff. Having seen The Hallelujah Girls there in July, I so appreciate that they are continuing to present live theater despite the obstacles. Next up will be the classic musical Annie (Oct. 10-25). Let’s hope that the sun’ll come out tomorrow…and that an effective COVID-19 vaccine will be discovered soon after that!
12 Angry Men has three more performances through Sept. 13. For tickets and other information, go to https://30byninety.com/shows/12-angry-men/
Curtain Up, TV On
Playmakers Theater of Covington (19106 Playmakers Rd.) presents Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, the beloved hit play about two divorced men, one audaciously sloppy and one uber-neat, who wind up living together, and the complications that ensue.
Ken Richard and Cameron Harmeyer play the slob Oscar Madison and neatnik Felix Ungar, respectively. The comedy will be performed Fridays-Sundays, Sept. 18-Oct. 4 (except no show on Saturday Oct. 3). For tickets and additional information, go to https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/
Anthony Bean Community Theater (ABCT) launches a new endeavor featuring its teen actors. ABCT Reality Teen Talk TV ‘What’s Going On’ is a new television series which will focus on youth of today and how teenagers’ behavior can impact their future. It will air on Saturdays (and one Sunday) on My54-WUPL TV.
The program will give teenagers a chance to speak out on issues they face every day and will also include dramatizations of selected topics, such as the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, sex, drugs, crime, bullying, racial discrimination, and systemic racism. Discussions will also provide tools and resources that can achieve solutions to these challenging subjects.
The schedule includes such guests and topics as Mayor LaToya Cantrell (Episode 1, September 12 at 11:30am); Dr. Corey J. Hebert discussing healthy lifestyles (Episode 2, September 19 at 11:30am); actors Lance Nichols, Gwendolyn Foxworth and Joshua J. Williams (Episode 3, September 26 at 11:30am); Artistic Directors of New Orleans theaters (A.J. Allegra/The NOLA Project, Chris Kaminstein/Goat in the Road, Augustin Correro/Tennessee Williams Theatre Company, Tommye Myrick/Voices in the Dark) speaking about systemic racism (Episode 4 October 3 at 11:30am); ABCT Teens interrelating with Jewish Teens (Episode 6, Sunday, October 11 at 12:30pm); and the final episode, Gay Teens discussing their “Coming Out Stories” (Episode 7, October 17, at 11:30am).