Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The play is set in the past, on a very hot day, and starts right when the jury enters the jury room to begin deliberations on a murder case. The 12 jurors are a range of ages, almost all are white, and the 16-year-old boy who is on trial for murdering his father we quickly learn is most definitely not white. The jury must reach a unanimous decision and when they take their first vote, just moments after they enter the room, they quickly learn that 11 of them believe the boy is guilty. However, one juror has some questions about the "beyond a reasonable doubt" part of the guilty verdict and he begins to bring up various pieces of evidence that were presented in the case that he has questions about. He also has serious issues around the lack of concern and attention to detail on the part of the boy's court appointed lawyer.
The play started as an hour long TV drama in 1954 which was then expanded for the 1957 Oscar nominated film 12 Angry Men. The author, Reginald Rose, was inspired to write the piece after he served as a juror on a manslaughter case. It was then reshaped as a 100-minute one-act play. Sherman L. Sergel adapted it for the stage into versions that also allow women to portray the jurors.
The piece is a well-written demonstration of various views of racism, aging, father/son rebellion and the impact all of those have on the 12 people in the room. It is also an interesting demonstration of the judicial system, where one man is to be judged by a jury of his peers, which is especially concerning when the peers selected to serve as jurors are nothing like the person on trial and come in with already preconceived judgements, beliefs and prejudices.
Zao's cast is led by Matthew Cary as the lone "not guilty" voting juror, who quietly and slowly works his concerns on the rest of the jurors. Cary's Juror #8 expertly keeps his cool throughout the play, even when he is confronted by a few of the hot-headed jurors. Cary so simply but naturally and effectively portrays this man who provides the one constant glimmer of hope throughout the play and is fighting for justice simply because he knows it's the right thing to do. Janis Webb and Robert Peters are the two obstinate and highly vocal antagonists of the piece. Webb plays the loud mouth bigot and Peters plays the juror who has plenty of issues with his son. They both do well in portraying the opposite side of view from the one that Cary's juror is on.
Diane Senffner is the wealthy juror who tries to be calm and cool and is very reserved about the proceedings. Senffner is believable as the woman who is steadfast in her firm guilty verdict until she begins to have her doubts as well about her initial vote. Carol Bennett and Eugene Dower are the foreign juror and oldest juror, respectively, who both come to Juror #8's understanding earlier than the rest and are somewhat ridiculed by the others for doing so. Both are outsiders from the rest of the group and can sympathize with the boy on trial. Bennett is good as the Eastern European woman who appears so much more accepting of the responsibility and importance of being called to serve as a juror. That role is quickly lost on a few of the other fellow jurors, who would rather get their jury duty over as quickly as possible so they can get back to their lives. Dower's Juror #9 is strong and firm in his beliefs, even though he looks frail and weak.
Peter Cunniff is good as the somewhat slimy advertising executive who also holds firm to his guilty plea until doubt slowly creeps into his mind. Tyler Boettcher as Juror #5 finds himself caught in the crossfire of the other jurors as well, when issues that are directly related to his past and upbringing, in particular, are up for debate. Jeff Huffman is the juror who doesn't really take his assignment seriously since he lets us know he has baseball tickets; he is constantly rushing the others to make decisions in hopes he'll make the game. Kevin Whitaker and Eric Banks round out the good cast and also get a moment or two to shine. Clayton Marlowe plays the foreman, who is very good at attempting to hold the group together.
Director Mickey Bryce can be commended for his superb, taut direction as well as for assembling a cast that realistically represents a wide range of people. The effective set design by Bryce and Robert Andrews uses a series of large panels to form the juror deliberation room. Diana Grubb's costumes do well to establish the various different classes and ages of the jurors.
12 Angry Jurors at Zao Theatre is a thought-provoking production of this classic drama with a good cast and firm direction that immediately pull you into the action.
12 Angry Jurors, through April 28th, 2018, for Zao Theatre, with performances at Centerstage Church, 550 South Ironwood Drive, in Apache Junction AZ. You can get information and tickets by visiting www.zaotheatre.com. Tickets can also be ordered by calling (602) 320-3275
Director: Mickey Bryce