There is no soft underbelly of bigotry in Twelve Angry Men, the 1956 drama about a jury debating a death sentence for a 16-year-old accused of murdering his father.
No, the bigotry, hatred, racism and xenophobia in Twelve Angry Men are hard and loud and violent — and very disturbing, especially at this particular time in U.S. history.
The show, playing at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill, opens as the all-male jury — it wasn't until 1973 that all states allowed women to serve on juries — files into a stifling jury room with one tiny, balky buzz fan to render what looks like a slam-dunk verdict of guilty as charged. It's such an obvious decision that the level-headed Jury Foreman (Mark Dunham) doesn't even bother with a secret, written ballot. After all, everybody is eager to get out of that stuffy room and on with their lives. So the foreman asks for a vote by raised hands, and, sure enough, it looks like it's unanimous … until Juror No. 8 lifts his hand in a single "not guilty" vote.
It isn't because he's convinced the boy is innocent. He just thinks the jurors should talk it over for a while before they send a boy to his death.
Immediately, tempers flare, and for 2 1/2 hours, the jurors reveal more about themselves and their prejudices, morals, values and lives than they can say with certainly about the accused.
The two most volatile are Juror No. 10 (Pete Clapsis) and Juror No. 3 (Dennis Duggan), both longtime, award-winning actors with extensive professional experience, and it's a joy to watch them at their most intense, even if does make you squirm at times.
Duggan's character is struggling with a long conflict with and estrangement from his son and transfers his frustrations over that 20-year impasse onto the young defendant. Clapsis' character is an unrepentant, loudmouth, self-important, melodramatic bigot, and Clapsis plays him to the rafters.
Fans of the 1957 movie will remember the low-key portrayal of the lone dissenter, Juror No. 8, by the late Henry Fonda; director Paul Wade's choice for that role, Sam Petricone, also an acting pro, plays him as calm and thoughtful, but often as vociferously passionate and strident as the others. It's a remarkable and memorable performance, revealing facets of that character perhaps not seen in other movie, television or stage productions.
Dalton Benson once more shows that he can melt into any character handed to him, this time as Juror No. 11, a refugee from Europe with strong loyalty to his adopted country. Jay Ingle adds a touch of humor as Juror No. 7, a fidgety, restless, rather indifferent juror in bright red pants and a spiffy hat who just wants to get it over with so he can go to his ball game. Sam McCall plays Juror No. 4 with studious detachment, going for hard facts and making list after list to convince himself of what he thinks he believes.
But time and again, it's Juror No. 8 who brings the others back to the point. For Bill Dimmett's Juror No. 12, that's a challenge, as he is more interested in his day job as a go-along-to-get-along ad man than he is in delivering justice.
That leaves the most consequential decisions to Thomas Garton's Juror No. 5, who is young, but perceptive and sensitive; Chris Hubner's Juror No. 6, arguably the most deeply thoughtful, albeit cynical, of the bunch; David Stenger's Juror No. 2, who is timid until pushed too far, but, most of all, Maurice Batista's Juror No. 9, whose observations remove doubts and verify the very doubt that Juror No. 8 had from the beginning.
Director Wade's very capable cast makes this rather lengthy play so engrossing that it seems to last only moments