Twelve Angry Men was written 60 years as a television movie by Reginald Rose, and one year later it was adapted for the stage by Sherman L. Sergel, and it remains relevant today. In what seems like an open and shut case of a son murdering his father, twelve people are tasked with deciding the fate of a troubled young man. One man stands alone for the principles of due process in which he believes. As they say in the play, it takes great courage to stand alone. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab Drama Club makes their own courageous choice with their ninth full-length play since coming together in 2009 and their first in the Parsons Auditorium, Twelve Angry Men.
The first thing you notice when you enter the Parsons Auditorium is the massive conference table that dominates the floor. I quick glance at the program makes it clear that this is a permanent part of the room. This would be a daunting staging condition for any production, but rather than work against it the Club embraces the table. Twelve Angry Men is a perfect play for the space. It is also a very enjoyable ensemble performance.
The table aside, the only piece of scenery is a window unit with a cleverly lit and beautifully painted city skyline behind it. The room provides the rest of the environment and is used well to help draw the audience into the action. Actors use one of the aisles to enter and exit the space, the lighting spills out over the audience keeping them visible throughout the performance, and the seating is reminiscent of a jury box. The Parsons Auditorium is a place where ideas are argued and judged, where (as the jurors advocate regularly) facts are the most important thing. Director Scott Lichtor’s staging used this space to full effect by finding organic ways to move through the whole space and divide it when the plays calls for more intimate conversations. Madeline Kirk’s production work, especially the tasteful costuming, provided color to the room without distracting from the action.
The ensemble is tight; each actor makes a dynamic portrayal without overwhelming the rest of the group or fading into the background. Their portrayal of stifling heat and exhaustion are subtle but effective: the progressive rolling of sleeves, the regular stops at the small window, the fanning and constant drinking of water. However, they do not allow this lethargy to diminish the intensity or slow the pacing of their performance. The rare moments of levity, especially those provided by Jenny Wright with her loveably ironic broken leg and her watch, gently release tension without disrupting the flow of the show.
Other performances of note include Don Vislay’s civil and meticulous portrayal and his ability to control the flow of the action without dominating it. APL DC veterans Jeffrey Dunne and Katie Samsock both show dialect work at its finest: subtle, believable, and consistent. The wonderful performances of veteran Betse Lyons, as volatile Juror #3, and newcomer John O’Brien, as the reasonably doubting Juror #8, create a dynamic binary system around which everyone else orbits.
Overall, this is an enjoyable ensemble piece that embraces challenges rather than fighting them. With the low, low ticket price of ‘free,’ the after-show reception with the cast and crew, and the enthusiasm with which this group does their work, you should go and enjoy this production. I did.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Twelve Angry Men plays through August 17, 2014 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Drama Club in the Parsons Auditorium – 11100 Johns Hopkins Road, in Laurel, MD. Tickets are free and available at the door, but seating is limited and the shows fill up so make your reservations here to guarantee seats.
Here are directions to Parsons Auditorium.
The APL Drama Club Presents ’12 Angry Men’ August 8-17, 2014 at Parson’s Hall in Laurel, MD by Lynn Reggia