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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Twelve Angry Men Still Resonates
at the Paramount

Also see David's review of My Name is Rachel Corrie

Twelve Angry Men

When I acted in Twelve Angry Men during college (ours was "Twelve Angry People" with both sexes in the cast, but not a line altered) it was 1978 and I marveled at how Reginald Rose's play still worked years after it was first done on television. Now the play is 53 years old, and how does it hold up? Happily, just fine, thanks to Scott Ellis' trusting but crisp direction, and a strong national touring company cast (based on the successful hit Broadway revival), which gives star billing to classic TV vets Richard ("The Waltons") Thomas and George ("Cheers") Wendt.

The plot, for anyone who has escaped it on television, stage or in the neo-classic film version starring Henry Fonda, concerns a jury in deliberations over the guilt or innocence of a 16-year-old boy accused of stabbing his father to death with a knife. Initially it looks like the jury won't be in session for long, as the first tally is eleven guilty votes and one not guilty. Juror #8 (the Thomas role here) just wants to talk about his uncertainties, and despite several blowhards who just want to go home or head to the ballgame, the men start listening to him, questioning what they have heard and how evidence was presented in the courtroom. One by one, they change their votes until only Juror #3, who, because of issues with his own father/son relationship, remains the sole guilty vote, until he too concedes that he must give the boy the benefit of the doubt.

Thomas looks scarcely changed from his John Boy Walton days and is inspired casting for the role as the leading moral conscience of the men. The actor's trademark warmth, naturalistic style and quiet strength are all tremendous assets. Wendt is just fine, if not remarkable, in the somewhat lesser role of the Foreman, Juror #1. As the tough, emotionally conflicted Juror #3, Randle Mell handles what is probably the least likable character admirably, without making him into a hackneyed, bullying loudmouth, and elicites genuine sympathy when his character finally breaks down. Julian Gamble is a bit more overstated but still effective as the bombastic Juror #10 who wears his class and racial prejudices on his sleeve. Jeffrey Hayenga is simply riveting as Juror #4, another hard one to sell on the boy's innocence, but finally unable to deny it.  T. Scott Cunningham as the vacillating ad executive Juror #12 smoothly carries off a lot of the play's lighter moments. Overall, not a weak performance is seen on the stage, and the familiar off-stage voice of the Judge at the show's opening is another TV vet, Robert ("Hill Street Blues") Prosky.

The jury room set design by Allen Moyer is drably realistic, and effective lighting design by Paul Palazzo suitably conveyes the passage of time and changes of weather when a summer rainstorm hits. Michael Krass's costume design never strikes a false note. And (a few microphone crackles aside) the show's sound design by Brian Ronan supports the actors well enough to carry their voices comfortably into the Paramount, a great touring house for big musicals but not the ideal venue in some cases for straight plays like this.

Audience response to Twelve Angry Men was solid throughout at the performance I attended, and the cast received solid applause at the curtain. Director Scott Ellis and his fine ensemble of actors do this well-crafted play proud, without any of the obvious and unnecessary revisions that often take place in revivals of vintage plays and musicals from decades past.

Twelve Angry Men runs through March 25, 2007 at the Paramount Theatre, 9th and Pine in downtown Seattle. For further information visit the Paramount on-line at www.theparamount.com.


Photo: Joan Marcus



- David-Edward Hughes



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