Review: Twelve Angry Men

Review: Twelve Angry Men, put on by Alpena Civic Theatre and directed by Carol Rundell
Running Dates: May 12- 15 and May 19-22, 2015

Twelve Angry Men. While anger may be one of the emotions present in the play put on by  the title doesn’t quite do justice to the emotional and thematic intensity covered by this drama that’s perhaps most famously known for its 1957 movie adaptation starring Henry Fonda.

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Photo credit: Dawn Diamond-Gentry

The play begins with the lights down, and a narrator introduces the drama: the twelve jurors have been called to determine the fate of one man, a boy really, accused of murdering his father. The men must distinguish “fact from fantasy”– and the play emphasizes the blurriness of these two categories. The entirety of the play happens in one room, with all twelve men on stage. We never see the accused. We never hear the testimonies. We only come to understand what happened– or at least what was said to have happened– through the filter of each character. And through that retelling, we learn about each man himself.

The twelve local actors are immaculately cast, with Joe Rybarczyk guiding the drama as young Juror #8  who brings all evidence into question. The rest of the jurors range from the bitter and antagonizing Juror #10, played by Bruce Michaud, to the justice-seeking, democracy-defending refugee Juror # 11 played by Rick Matney. The emotion conveyed by this group of actors is palpable; the audience can almost feel the heat rising in the room during moments of intense debate, especially through the acting of the opinionated and impassioned Jurors #3 and #4, played by Bill Powell and David Usher respectively, who are reluctant to accept new evidence.

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The cast of Twelve Angry Men. Photo credit: Alpena Civic Theatre

The quieter moments in this play, however, are equally, if not more, stunning.  Listen to the quiet Juror #9, played by John Porter, when he finally speaks, inviting the jury to consider why the old man who claims he heard the murder would give a false testimony. “Did you notice the seam ripped below his arm? Did you notice the two canes he carries?” He has lived seventy-five years, and no one knows his name. Porter delivers this moment with a quiet intensity  and melancholy that rivals the more heated moments of the play and invites the jurors, and the audience, to see the humans involved in this case. Porter claims, “I am this man.”

The most breathtaking moment of the play comes in the final scene after the final vote has been cast. Each man grabs his coat and exits the room in silence on the hot summer night. Porter, Juror #9, lingers alone in the room with Juror #3, played by Bill Powell, the most opinionated and insistent that the young boy be persecuted as a guilty murderer. Earlier in the play, we learn of his fraught relationship with his own son, who he tried to teach to “be a man” and who eventually ran away. As Powell stands, face against the wall, fist still clenched, in silence in the near empty room, Porter silently approaches and says– a line that I learned afterwards had been added to script by this cast– barely audibly, heartbreakingly, “he’s not your son.”

I don’t think the audience took a breath until the lights came up and the cast came out for their final bow.

As French novelist Marcel Proust wroteEvery reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. the writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what might never have seen in himself… “ The drama of what really happened that night of the murder becomes the optical instrument through which the audience learns the twelve men, and through which they learn each other. This is a play about how we filter others through ourselves, our experiences, our fears, and our prejudices: our understanding is never truly objective. It’s never fact or fantasy; it’s always a bit of both.

Twelve Angry Men runs at Alpena Civic Theatre through the end of this weekend. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday at 7 pm and a Sunday matinee at 2 pm. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call 989-354-3624 or visit www.alpenacivictheater.com

Blog Downtown Alpena is written by Anne Gentry and covers events in the downtown area. What was your take on the play?  I’d love to hear your thoughts after the performance. Comment below or message me here.

An earlier version of the blog reported Juror #9 as being played by Bill Powell- Juror #9 was played by John Porter. 

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