Sunday, June 22, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre Time's Twelve Angry Men at the Colonial Church of Bayside by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre Time's production of the play Twelve Angry Men at the Colonial Church of Bayside was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Twelve Angry Men
Theatre Time Production
Colonial Church of Bayside (54-02 217th Street, Bayside, NY)
Reviewed 6/21/14

Twelve Angry Men is a drama written by Reginald Rose concerning the jury deliberations of twelve men in a homicide trial of a 16-year old inner-city, troubled youth accused of killing his father with a switch-blade knife. It was made for the Studio One anthology television series and aired as a CBS live production on September 20, 1954. In 1955, it was adapted for the stage and in 1957, it was made into a movie directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda as Juror #8. The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. In 2004, the Roundabout Theatre Company staged a Broadway production of the play and in November, 2013, a London West End production opened at the Garrick Theatre. This Theatre Time production of Twelve Angry Men is as good as any I have seen. I highly recommend you go to see it.

The play is not about whether the accused is guilty or innocent. The fact is no one knows for sure. The play is more about what constitutes reasonable doubt and the struggle to achieve a just jury verdict. The men deliberating on that verdict bring to the table prejudices, anger, indifference, unreliable judgments, different perspectives, fears and diverse personalities that threaten to taint their rational decision-making abilities. This production is set in a New York County Criminal Court Jury Room (overlooking the Woolworth Building) circa 1957 and successfully evokes the cultural sensitivities of that time. Although we never find out the race or ethnic background of  the 16-year old indigent, minority, slum-dwelling defendant, we do learn his mother died when he was nine years old, that he lived as an orphan for one and a half years while his father spent time in jail for forgery, and that he has a criminal record. 

Just as Juror #10, who has strong racist tendencies, is more than eager to assume the boy is guilty, Juror #8 is inclined to give the boy the benefit of the doubt, concerned that his Court-appointed attorney may not have done the best he could in putting up a defense and cross-examining the prosecution's witnesses. The play remains interesting to the end as a diverse group of twelve jurors (all male, mostly middle-aged, white, and generally middle class status) deliberate after hearing the "facts" in a seemingly open-and-shut case and later, as each piece of evidence is further examined, become less and less certain of those "facts" as jury deliberations continue.

Kevin C. Vincent directed the production and was Juror #8 (the first juror to vote Not Guilty). The play was presented "in the round", which was an excellent choice that allowed audience members to see the actors from all angles as jury deliberations progressed. Kevin C. Vincent played Juror #8 as a soft-spoken, calm, cool-headed, rational truth-seeking architect who simply had doubts about whether the defendant was guilty as charged. Bernard Bosio played the hot-headed, combative Juror #3 (owner of a messenger service called the "Beck & Call" Company), the last hold-out voting Guilty after everyone else had admitted to having some "reasonable doubt". Bosio's final speech was intense and memorable as he recounts feeling as if the defendant had thrust the knife into his own heart, just as his son had figuratively done to him. You could hear a pin drop during Mr. Bosio's final scene when it became increasingly clear that his anger at his estranged son was blinding his judgment. Eric Leeb did a great job portraying Juror #4, the well-educated, well-dressed stockbroker who was cool-headed and rational and the main voice of reason for those arguing in favor of a Guilty verdict. Jim Haines was garage-owner Juror #10, who was more than willing to send the defendant to the electric chair simply because of the racial stereotypes he believed gave him insight into the kind of boy this particular kid was. Mr. Haines did a top-notch job in the role but his shirt was somehow unable to remain tucked-in causing a wardrobe malfunction that was distracting.

Tim Reifschneider was Juror #1, who successfully portrayed the high-school assistant head-coach who didn't want the responsibility of Jury Foreman but who did the best he could to keep the discussions on track. Michael Pichardo convincingly played the relatively simple-minded, meek Juror #2 who was obviously not on the same intellectual level as his fellow jurors but who did have a better memory than Juror #4 in recalling a film title. Paul Robilotto was Juror #5, who grew up in a slum himself, had knowledge about the proper use of switch-blades and who was nick-named Milwaukee by Juror #7 because he liked the Brewers. Mr. Robilotto was so excited to be appearing in this production that he broke out into a hora step during the curtain call, perhaps reflecting the fact that his character may have grown up in a Jewish slum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Ray Bendana was perfectly cast as Juror #6, a typical "working man" (probably a manual laborer or a painter) who was respectful and protective of older Juror #9 and was willing to back that up with his fists, if necessary. Juror #9 was brought to life by Johnny Dee Damato. Jef. Lawrence was effective as Juror #7, the baseball obsessed, marmalade salesman, who just wanted to leave as soon as possible so he could attend an evening Yankees game he had tickets to. Marty Edelman was very believable as Juror #11, the watchmaking, refuge from Central Europe with a heavy accent (implied to be Jewish), who expresses reverence and respect for American democracy and its system of justice. Finally, Jim Percival held his own as Juror #12, the business ad man, who was easily swayed and used advertising talk when expressing his ideas.

This Theatre Time production of Twelve Angry Men is a winner in every way. It received an enthusiastic, standing ovation by every member of the audience in a packed house on opening night. I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to catch this production and I suggest you not miss it. General Admission is $17.00 (Seniors $15.00). Purchase your tickets at 

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