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Chicago by John Olson

Twelve Angry Men
LaSalle Bank Theatre

Also see John's review of Radio Golf

Twelve Angry Men
George Wendt and Richard Thomas
As Reginald Rose's classic drama begins, 11 of 12 men sitting on a jury for the trial of a teen charged with murder are anxious to convict the youth and get home. The cast of this national tour seem just as impatient. Maybe they had a 9:15 reservation at Nick's Fishmarket down the block, but Scott Ellis's pacing seems to race toward the inevitable verdict so familiar to those who have seen the 1957 film version of Rose's 1954 teleplay. The actors seemed to know the jury could come to a unanimous verdict as long as they read every line of the script. The cast has only been out on the road since mid-September, so this lack of spontaneity in the performances is surprising.

As Juror #8, the lone holdout who convinces his fellow jurors to take just a few minutes to deliberate before sending the boy to Death Row, Richard Thomas follows appropriately enough in the footsteps of those icons of American decency, Henry Fonda (of the 1957 film) and Jack Lemmon (of the 1997 TV movie remake). His "John-Boy Walton" baggage serves him well enough in this role, but he doesn't add much more. Again, maybe it's Ellis's fault. The jurors seem to acquiesce to #8's initial pleas for deliberation a bit too easily, and they fall in line quickly as a new majority in favor of a not guilty verdict begins to form. Guilty or innocent, they seem to have little angst over the enormity of their responsibility. Maybe they are just hungry.

That's not to say there isn't any weeping or gnashing of teeth. There's a lot of shouting going on, but it's usually fairly unearned and they seem to get over it pretty quickly. Individually, when the actors get into their monologues they do just fine. Julian Gamble as bigoted Juror #10 disgusts with his tirade against the defendant's ethnic group, whom he names only as "those people." Juror #3, played in the 1957 film by Lee J. Cobb, is an intimidating and ultimately anguished father in the hands of Randle Mell. Alan Mandell is the frail but mentally and emotionally tough old man who is the first to switch his vote to not guilty. Thomas' co-star, George Wendt of Cheers, unfortunately has little to do as Juror #1, the foreman.

Ellis's Broadway cast of the play earned rave reviews and a healthy run. Maybe it benefited from being in a house less than half the size of the LaSalle Bank Theatre. At Broadway's American Airlines, I'd guess the claustrophobia of the jury room could be sensed a bit more easily by the audience. I'd love to see how Twelve Angry Men would play in a tiny storefront theatre. Still, I think this is probably a piece best delivered via film or TV, where close-ups can do their magic.

P.S. For those who may have trouble keeping track of the jurors, who are known only by their numbers, there's a great scorecard on Wikipedia.com that describes each juror, lists who played the role in each of the three film and TV versions, and gives the order in which the jurors change their votes!

Twelve Angry Men will play through February 11, 2007 at the LaSalle Bank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. (no 7:30 p.m. performance on Sunday, February 11). Tickets are available at Broadway in Chicago box offices (LaSalle Bank Theatre, Cadillac Palace Theatre and Ford Center Oriental Theatre), by phone at 312-902-1400 or through Ticketmaster.


Photo: Joan Marcus

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- John Olson



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