Verdict: ‘Angry Men’ engrossing

Ensemble cast of actors brings raw passion to dramatic, intelligent Lakewood Playhouse production

March 7, 2014 

Juror No. 7 makes his point to Juror No. 5 in “12 Angry Men,” which begins this weekend at Lakewood Playhouse.

COURTESY PHOTO BY KATE PATERNO-LICK

“12 Angry Men,” now playing at Lakewood Playhouse, is as dramatic, engrossing and relevant today as it was 60 years ago when it premiered on CBS Television’s “Studio One.”

The writing by Reginald Rose, the direction by Victoria Webb, and the ensemble acting are all stupendous. Set in the 1950s, the clothing (costumes by Alex Lewington), the language and the dramatic dialogue all reflect the time period without being dated.

The entire play takes place in a jury room where 12 jurors gather to determine the innocence or guilt of a 17-year-old boy accused of capital murder. They take an initial vote, and all but Juror No. 8 (Bruce Story-Camp) vote guilty. The one holdout is not convinced the boy is innocent, but he has reasonable doubt. For the next two hours, the jurors argue the case. Some change their minds because of a logical exploration of facts they may have not seen so clearly at first, and some because they are emotionally swayed. Others stubbornly hold onto their insistence that the boy is guilty, and their own fears and prejudices become clear.

The writing is intelligent and believable (even if the outcome is predictable from the beginning), and the performances are so strong that each actor seems to have become the men they are portraying.

Most outstanding is Christian Carvajal in an award-worthy performance as the spiteful and bigoted Juror No. 3. This is the best performance I’ve seen from Carvajal, and he has turned in some magnificent performances in such shows as “Oleanna” and “Frost-Nixon.” I just hope he doesn’t give himself a heart attack before the show ends.

Story-Camp also believably depicts a man struggling to remain calm and reasonable in the face of unimaginable frustrations, who is unsure of himself but determined to be fair no matter what. In the film version, Henry Fonda played this character as a heroic everyman; in this play, Story-Camp plays him not as a hero but as a man as real as a stubbed toe.

Ronnie Hill is volatile and mesmerizing as Juror No. 10, who starts out likable and expressive and turns into a madman, and Michael Dresdner is captivating as the foreigner who looks at the facts from a fresh and disarming point of view. Rob Reed plays Juror No. 7 as a lovable lowlife who just wants to get it over with so he can go to a baseball game.

The writer must have been a close observer of people to come up with such a mixed bag of tangible characters, and this ensemble cast does a wonderful job of bringing them alive with raw passion.

Also outstanding is Webb’s blocking, which makes the usual problems with an in-the-round set seem inconsequential.

I can’t recommend “12 Angry Men” highly enough.

12 Angry Men

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 16

Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood

Tickets: $19-$25

Information: 253-588-0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org

alec@alecclayton.com Check Alec’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for other theater reviews. Coming in March: reviews of “Chapter Two” at Tacoma Little Theatre and “Boeing Boeing” at Olympia Little Theatre.

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