Twelve Angry Men still resonates half a century later.
TWELVE ANGRY MEN by Reginald Rose (Soulpepper). At Young Centre (50 Tank House Lane). Runs to July 19. $29-$74, rush $5-$23. 416-866-8666, soulpepper.ca. See listings. Rating: NNN Win a pair of tickets to Twelve Angry Men here!
Reginald Rose's well-constructed Twelve Angry Men is a pressure cooker of a play that resonates as strongly today as it did when first performed in the 1950s.
A dozen jurors, all men, hold the life of a teen in their hands as they debate whether he's guilty of murdering his father. All they need to acquit him, in fact, is reasonable doubt that he did the deed. Either way, a unanimous decision is required.
At first all the jurors but one, Juror 8 (Stuart Hughes) - they're all identified by number rather than name - believe the accused is guilty. The lone outlier isn't convinced and does his best to bring the others to his way of thinking.
It soon becomes clear that the teen is from a background different from that of most of the jurors. Several display their racial prejudice, talking in terms of "us" and "them," inclining toward a guilty verdict no matter what evidence is presented. Others' views are more liberal, and the fifth juror (Byron Abalos) comes from a similar background to the accused, which gives the production a neat twist.
The script is in part a series of character studies, and though Rose paints most of the men in broad strokes, the actors and director Alan Dilworth make each figure believable in his quirks and habits.
The cast is a strong, with special nods to Hughes as the man who needs questions answered, Joseph Ziegler as self-impressed Juror 3, William Webster as rabidly angry Juror 10, and Tim Campbell as formal, logical Juror 4.
Dilworth stages it with the audience on either side of Yannik Larivee's narrow, constricted jury room, the director knowing to swirl the action so the audience gets to see the characters' faces and not just their backs.
Still, the dramatic tension takes a while to develop. It catches the audience by the second act (wouldn't the action work better if played straight through rather than with an intermission?), but the first builds in a start-and-stop fashion.