Aldersgate Church Community Theater Twelve Angry MenBy Bob Ashby • Oct 17th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Aldersgate Church Community Theater
Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Alexandria, VA
Through October 30th
2:05 with two intermissions
$15/$12 Youth or Senior (Discount also available online)
Reviewed October 14th, 2011
In a criminal trial, attorneys for the prosecution and the defense work hard to create their competing narratives of the events of the case. When the case goes to the jury, its members typically do not simply adopt one side’s narrative and reject the other. Rather, they create their own collective narrative, borrowing elements from the lawyers’ presentations and bringing to bear their perceptions of the evidence and the perspectives of their own life experiences. The group dynamics of the jury may play a major role in shaping the development of that narrative.
Twelve Angry Men, in a strong production by Aldersgate Church Community Theater (ACCT), illustrates, with considerable dramatic exaggeration, the evolution of a jury’s narrative in a murder trial, as what most jurors first see as an open-and-shut case becomes progressively more complicated and open to question. As the jury reviews the evidence, the script provides a more effective discussion of the concept of “reasonable doubt” than one is likely to find in many law schools’ first-year criminal law classes.
The play takes place entirely within a jury room, which enables ACCT to stage the production in the round, with seating on three sides of the floor-level playing area and additional seating on the proscenium stage, several feet above. Director Roland Gomez’s blocking effectively displays the actors to the audience on all sides of the intimate playing area, particularly when the actors stand to deliver their lines. When the actors are seated at the central jury table, however, it becomes difficult to see their reactions to others’ lines.
Twelve Angry Men is very much an ensemble show. The ACCT ensemble maintains the energy and pace necessary for the show to succeed, and the actors interact crisply with one another. All the actors succeed in creating distinct individual characters; notable performances include Will Monahan and John Shackleford as a colorful older juror and a quietly dignified immigrant, respectively.
Twelve men may be angry, but some are more angry than others. One of the weaknesses of this script has always been that the angriest of the lot, and the primary antagonists of the uber-rational Juror #8 (Rich Amada), are both prejudiced loudmouth bullies, and therefore too-easy targets. In these roles, Teddy Gron and particularly David James consistently chew scenery at a very high decibel level, though it is hard to imagine being able to play these characters, as written, with any significant degree of subtlety.
Speaking of scenery, the production makes good use of a minimal set, consisting of a large jury table with two window units and two door units at the corners of the playing area. ACCT’s limited lighting resources are adequate to illuminate the playing area effectively.
With an all-male, all-white jury (all but one of the members of which are costumed in dress shirts and ties), a jury room lacking air conditioning, and one of the jurors holding tickets to the original run of Damn Yankees, there is no reasonable doubt that we are in the 1950s, notwithstanding the program note saying that the time of the play is “the present.” In fact, the original 1954 teleplay and the 1957 movie version starring Henry Fonda are contemporaneous with Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge (1955), which offers a quite different, and much darker, take on law and justice in New York City. Twelve Angry Men offers a far more optimistic view than Miller’s play of the ability of liberal reason and the legal system to overcome passion and violence. One can hope against hope that such optimism has a basis in current reality.
Many years ago, I told Drew Vander Linden, the creator of the wonderful theatre we enjoy today at Aldersgate, that Wesley Hall was a perfect venue to do Theatre-In-The Round.
When the theatre committee decided to do Twelve Angry Men and asked me to direct it, I mentioned to my dear friend, Brad Hathaway, Metro-Washington’s fine theatre critic, at our usual Bi-monthly Brunch – that I would really want to do the show in the round, and the audience would feel that they were there, observing in the jury room-and he said “Great idea! Do it!” – and the powers that be at Aldersgate were also excited at the idea and approved it!
I’ve wanted to direct this play for so long. Aldersgate has always been there for me as a director! I have directed over 15 plays here! Aldersgate is one of my great theatre homes that I love so much to direct in.
Twelve Angry Men is a very successful drama adapted from Reginald Rose’s teleplay, performed first in the CBS famed Studio One television series. The play’s Broadway debut finally came 50 years later on the 28th of October at the New York Roundabout Theatre.
In 1957, Sidney Lumet directed Henry Fonda and an all-star cast in a film adaptation, which was nominated for an Academy Award in the categories of Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing of an Adapted Screenplay.
There are other theatrical adaptations in which female actors are cast in the play- retitled Twelve Angry Jurors and Twelve Angry Women. In reading the history of this play, we feel that it is an important piece of theatre that will live forever!
I truly hope you all enjoy this gripping, penetrating, engrossing play and the wonderful actors that have worked so hard to bring this drama to you. Thank you so much for supporting our company at Aldersgate!
The company dedicates this production of Twelve Angry Men to Drew Vander Linden and Shirley Bolstad – who created this magnificent theatre at Aldersgate!
Photos provided by Aldersgate Church Community Theater
- Foreman of the Jury: Jeffrey A. Clarke
- Juror No. Two: Gary Cramer
- Juror No. Three: David James
- Juror No. Four: Mike Russell
- Juror No. Five: Brian Clarke
- Juror No. Six: Elliott Bales
- Juror No. Seven: Cal Whitehurst
- Juror No. Eight: Rich Amada
- Juror No. Nine: Will Monahan
- Juror No. Ten: Teddy Gron
- Juror No. Eleven: John Shackelford
- Juror No. Twelve: Ron Becker
- Guard: Howard Soroos
- Judge: Jim Howard
- Clerk: Charles Dragonette
The Production Crew
- Producers: Kacie J. Greenwood and Robert Kraus
- Director: Roland Branford Gomez
- Assistant Director: Mary Ayala-Bush
- Set Design: Stuart Travis
- Stage Managers: Marg Soroos and Charles Dragonette
- Set Construction: Stuart Travis and Bill Austin
- Assisted by Rich Amada, Elliott Bales, Ron Becker, Mike Russell, John Shackelford, Howard Soroos, and Cal Whitehurst
- Set Painting: Mary Hutzler
- Props Designer/Set Decoration Judy Kee
- Light Design: Nancy L. Owens and Liz Owens
- Light Technician: Rachel Lau
- Music: Joseph Columbo
- Sound Design: Alan Wray
- Sound Technician: Kendall Snow and Hannah Lau
- Costumer: Kathy Dodson
- Wardrobe: Meghan Lau and Sheila Roberts
- Hair & Makeup: Chanukah Jane Lilburne
- Publicity: Candy F. Cole
- Assisted by: Amy Hurd, Bill Austin, Meghan Lau, Kacie J. Greenwood, Nikki Smith Christi Tran
Disclaimer: Aldersgate Church Community Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. ACCT also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio.net web site, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7256.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.