Vote of confidence

Twelve Angry Men

By Reginald Rose
Adaptation by Sherman L. Sergei
Directed by Cyndy Marion
The Riant Theatre
161 Hudson Street (4th fl.) 925-8353
Non-union production (closes June 11)
Review by Steve Gold

Twelve Angry Men is among the better-known antiquities from television's Golden Age, thanks mainly to Sidney Lumet's vivid, gripping 1957 feature film. As adapted for the stage by Sherman L. Sergei, the story is basically the same, though it seems more studied and preachy than before, and the expository dialogue occasionally sticks out rather ungracefully. Nevertheless, fine esemble acting overcame these obstacles, becoming in effect the production's raison d'etre.

An all-male jury is on the verge of convicting a Hispanic teenager of murdering his father; the death penalty, silent and greedy, hovers nearby. Eleven jurors vote to convict. The twelve juror, Juror #8 (Joel Greenwald), is inclined to believe the boy did indeed kill his father, but he's not sure. So he tentatively votes for acquittal. Several jurors try to badger him into changing his vote. But he won't be rushed; he wants to re-examine the evidence before sending the boy to his death.

This is the sort of play in which each character is defined by a single personality trait: There is the hot-shot ad man (Richard Vaughn); the weasel (Nicholas Saint-Lary); the bigot (Mark A. Keeton), the recent immigrant (Yoshiro Kono), and so on. But since the death penalty has lately become one of the preferred means of population control in the America, story retains its relevance.

Cyndy Marion, the director, has assembled alternating casts for the production, designated "Jury A" and "Jury B," with Jury A the subject of the current review. Greenwald gave a worthy performance as the boy's initial, sole defender. Tom Southern conveyed an attractively stentorian dignity to the role of an elderly gent who changes his vote to not guilty in order to buy time for Juror #8 to build his case. As Juror #3, Rhett Reidy was forceful as a vociferous opponent of the boy's acquittal, though his motivation for behaving as he does - namely, that he's not on good terms with his own son - isn't exactly believable. Bobby Kumbatovic, who played Juror #4, supplied a refreshingly smart-ass tone to an essentially nondescript part. John Baker was amusing as the none-too-bright Juror #6; Yuri S. De La Torre, as a former slum kid and recent, uncertain arrival to the middle class, did a nice job of personifying the awkward emotions implicit in such a journey. Terrence Christgau's stalwart, vest-wearing Juror #4, was commanding and persuasive. The roles of the foreman (Chuck Tait) and Jurors #12 (Vaughn), #11 (Kono) and #2 (Saint-Lary) are somewhat skeletal as written, and yet the actors furnished enough flesh-and-blood individuality to get the job done. Even Robert Nicotra, who played the guard - and who had but a few lines to speak - made a distinctly wry impression. John Marion ably supplied the voice of the judge. In short, Cyndy Marion is to be commended for gathering together a solid group of performers; and her brisk, 85-minute staging was both polished and to the point.

This being a courtroom drama - or more accurately, a jury room drama - the uncredited set was appropriate: mainly a long folding table surrounded by chairs, with a black-curtained background; Saundra Frederick's lighting was unfussy and to the point. Costumes (also uncredited) were of standard, businessman issue.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Steve Gold