Monday, February 11, 2008

"12 Angry Men" on-stage vs. film

My freelance review:
Eleven jurors are convinced that the defendant is guilty of murder. The twelfth isn't so sure, thereby preventing a quick verdict. And so starts Twelve Angry Men, the latest production at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

It's the summer of 1957. Twelve male jurors from various walks of life are gathered for their deliberations while a troubled young man accused of brutally killing his aggressive father awaits his fate, as the jury was instructed that a guilty verdict would be accompanied by a mandatory death sentence. Corralled in a sweltering New York jury room, the twelve men engage in heated debate as hidden preconceptions and assumptions of the jurors are revealed.

Twelve Angry Men was initially produced as a teleplay that appeared on CBS in 1954. In 1957, it was made into a major motion picture by Sidney Lumet with Henry Fonda (as the lone dissenter) among a star-powered cast that included Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman and others. This now-classic film, with its extremely powerful performances and excellent cinematography, sets the bar very high -- perhaps too high.

The Rep's production, directed by Martin Platt, feels like the film version being played out on stage, with the set having a nice period feel to it and the lighting, in particular, by Dan Kotlowitz, being quite effective.

Ironically, though, there's less intimacy in the Rep's version compared to the film version; perhaps this is due to the staging -- it was hard if not impossible to see the faces of some of the jurors during key exchanges, thus distancing the audience member from some of the emotional impact. Usually theatre is more intimate than film!

As the story plays out in real time for one hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission, the dialog is taut and compelling. There were a few parts, though, where the pacing could have been slowed a bit to achieve greater dramatic effect.

Twelve Angry Men plays through Mar. 2 at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in Webster Groves.

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