TWELVE ANGRY MEN by Reginald Rose, directed by Scott Ellis (Roundabout/Mirvish). At Princess of Wales (300 King West). To February 10. $30-$94. 416-872-1212. Rating: NNN
A classic of early TV later turned into a film and a stage play, Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men occasionally flames with energy but sometimes feels contrived.
It’s not because of the touring Roundabout Theatre production, though, but because of the script itself.
Observing the classical unities, the one-act piece plays out in real time, a clock on the wall keeping us conscious of the seconds ticking away. Its characters are a deliberating jury deciding whether a young man is guilty of murdering his abusive father. Initially, 11 of the dozen are convinced that he is, and only Juror Eight has a reservation about that verdict.
That’s key here: no one is arguing about innocence, only about a reasonable doubt about guilt. That doubt could keep the accused from going to his death.
Rose, known for his socially conscious drama, intentionally doesn’t specify the boy’s ethnicity, and similarly all the characters are identified simply by their juror number. This scenario can be played anywhere, at any time; the prejudice, compassion and thunderous arguments resonate as strongly today as in the 50s.
Yet the action sometimes moves clunkily toward its conclusion. A character can flip his viewpoint for no clear reason, and at times the evidence that persuades them feels flimsy. Once or twice the Author’s Message hits too obviously.
On the positive side, director Scott Ellis’s company proves a fine ensemble, and small details turn each of the jurors into an individual. The rhythms and a few moments of high passion are beautifully orchestrated. Too bad Richard Thomas’s Juror Eight isn’t more strongly defined, even in the way he tries to provoke his fellow jurymen into reconsidering the various pieces of evidence.
There’s especially fine work from Kevin Dobson and Mark Morettini as racists who see an unbreachable gulf between “them” and “us,” Alan Mandell as an older man with a keen sense of justice and unshakable dignity and Julian Gamble as a schoolyard bully who uses his size and temper to intimidate those around him.