Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
When the play is set in its original time period, the 12 jurors determining the fate of a teenage boy accused of murder are all white men; Epps has shuffled the deck by making the jury pool racially diverse and equally balanced, six white men and six African Americansalthough it's still all male. The main point of contention remains the fact that the 16-year-old defendant is poor and a member of an unidentified non-white ethnic group, leading the jurors to judgmental comments and slurs about people they consider less than human.
The way Epps' casting works out, African Americans appear in the more sympathetic roles while the most objectionable characters are played by white actors. Erik King is Juror Number 8 (played by Henry Fonda in the movie), the one man determined not to condemn a young man to prison or death without taking a thorough look at the evidence: outwardly calm, internally roiling. Bueka Uwemedimo is the naturalized citizen who believes in the promise of America (he speaks with an African accent; originally the character was Eastern European); Bru Ajueyitsi, the young man who takes issue with the idea that good people can't come from "bad" neighborhoods; and Craig Wallace, the weary voice of reason.
On the other side, Michael Russotto, burly and aggrieved, dominates his scenes as combative Juror Number 3, who comes into the jury room convinced that the boy is guilty and not wanting to argue about it. Elan Zafir, a blue-collar businessman, spits out an angry rant about "those people" that sounds frighteningly contemporary. Christopher Bloch is a stockbroker who views life through his lens of privilege and business, while Lawrence Redmond just wants to get to his baseball game, and Brandon McCoy hides his defensiveness behind the veneer of a whiz-kid advertising executive.
Instead of placing the actors in a realistic setting, Stephanie Kerley Schwartz has created a scenic design with understated grandeur. The walls are utilitarian gray, but tall and column-like between screened windows; the table is softly triangular with no sharp corners, surrounded by enough space for the actors to pace, speak out, and struggle with each other.