Twelve Angry Jurors
By Geary Danihy
Twice during his curtain talk before the start of Twelve Angry Jurors, Matt Schicker, Playhouse on the Green’s producing artistic director and the play’s director and producer, suggested that the audience view itself as “flies on the wall” of the jury room in which the two-act drama is played out. The “wall” Schicker was referring to was the fourth or imaginary wall in a proscenium theater, the “wall” that, if it were actually there, would block the audience’s view of the stage.
The cast of "Twelve Angry Jurors" at Playhouse on the Green (l to r): l to r: Virginia Lity of Bridgeport, Molly Garbe of Fairfield, Steven Scarpa of New Haven, Mark Frattaroli of Stratford, Kent R. Brown of Fairfield, Lucy Babbitt of Stratford, Kevin Shea of Norwalk, John Zanowiak of Stratford, Fredda Takacs of Trumbull, David Victor of Fairfield, Nigel Rees of Milford and Daryl Guberman of Stratford.
The non-existence of this “wall” seldom presents problems since the audience is used to the centuries-old convention, but in staging a play such as Twelve Angry Jurors, Sherman L. Sergel’s adaptation of Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men, dealing with this “wall” is just one of the challenges faced by a director in his attempt to create the claustrophobic, pressure-cooker atmosphere that is, itself, a character in a play that focuses on a jury’s deliberation after the close of a murder trial.
Schicker and set designer Carl Tallent chose to use the full width of the Playhouse’s stage, with the juror’s table set parallel to the imaginary wall, which means that several members of the cast must sit with their backs to the audience, a less than admirable situation that presented obvious blocking problems for Schicker. Since the stage is not raked, depending on where you are sitting in the theater it is also often difficult to see the jurors sitting behind the table.
Part of the “actor’s back” problem Schicker deals with by having two of the jurors, Juror 9 (Kent R. Brown) and Juror 12 (Steven Scarpa), sit sideways at either end of the table, but there is little he can do with Juror 10 (Virginia Lity) and Juror 11 (Nigel Rees) other than have them stand and turn or shift in their chairs to deliver their lines. On two occasions, Schicker has these two jurors “break the fourth wall,” that is, address the audience directly, which means that, within the fictive world of the play, they are basically talking to one of the jury room’s walls.
Juror 10’s wall-breaking moment, which has her proclaiming her bigoted philosophy to the audience rather than her fellow jurors, is one of the climactic moments of the play, for the viral nature of her beliefs so disgusts many of the jury members that it pushes them towards the “not guilty” verdict that Juror 8 (Mark Frattaroli) has been battling for since the start of the play. To visually represent this “disgust,” Schicker has several of his actors get up and face the visible walls of the room. It’s an odd tableau that has the overall effect of “bad” children being sent to stand in the corner.
The play’s movement is linear, in that it begins with only one juror opting for a not-guilty verdict and ends with Juror 3 (Kevin Shea) being the only hold-out for a guilty verdict, and much of the play’s dramatic drive is focused on the emotional and psychological battle between Juror 3 and Juror 8, the culmination of which is, or should be, the play’s climax. Unfortunately, those who are only familiar with the Sidney Lumet film adaptation of the play will find the ending somewhat anticlimactic, for Juror 3’s marvelous, heart-wrenching shriving of his devils before his capitulation is not in the original play.
However, even without these lines, Shea does an admirable job of creating a man whose anger, frustration and unspoken sense of loss have so poisoned his spirit that as a juryman he seeks vengeance rather than justice. His performance is, at moments, quite riveting. Playing against him as Juror 8, Frattaroli has perhaps the more difficult job of walking the thin line between passion and restraint, which he succeeds in doing. A little more force at moments would have been appreciated, but on the whole his Juror 8 is credible. Brown also does a nice, studied turn as Juror 9, the old man who is the first to side with Juror 8
As for the turning of “Men” into “Jurors,” nothing is really gained dramatically by changing the gender of four of the jurors from male to female. In fact, the tension is lessened, as anyone who understands group dynamics will attest. The possibility of confrontation and violence in a group composed of eight men and four women is decidedly less than it is in an all-male group.
On the whole, the Playhouse’s production of Twelve Angry Jurors provides an enjoyable if not gripping evening at the theater. There’s nothing exceedingly wrong with the production, and the script, of course, holds up after these many years. It’s just that, save for Juror 3, there’s more simmer than boil in these twelve irritated jurors.
Twelve Angry Jurors runs through Sunday, Feb. 22. For tickets or more information call 866-811-4111 or go to www.playhouseonthegreen.org.
This review originally appeared in the Norwalk Citizen-News.