What goes on in the secret deliberations of juries? And what lessons are there for all of us in terms of group dynamics and how to persuade people?
The answers to these interesting questions are the lessons of Twelve Angry Men, now playing at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn. In partnership with Arts on the Green, Sandy Spring Theatre Group brings this iconic masterpiece to life. The play was written by Reginald Rose who adapted it from his 1954 teleplay developed for a television show. Skillful Director Bill Spitz guides the twelve nameless jurors—who are known only by their juror numbers—in a thrilling journey into the depths of human emotion and bigotry.
The story seems amazingly simple. The twelve men (no women; the story was written a long time ago) on a jury have to decide if a teenage boy is guilty or not guilty of knifing his father to death. But, the stakes are incredibly high because, if the jurors find the defendant guilty, there is a mandatory death sentence. There are eyewitnesses and some physical evidence but eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable and physical evidence can sometimes be misleading. And what do you do if you are the only person in a room who feels a defendant may not be guilty, or if you are the only person in any room who is trying to convince others to agree with you?
In the 1954 setting, the characters unabashedly use politically incorrect language, and it is fascinating to watch as seemingly solid evidence is torn apart and as even the most convinced and sometimes bigoted people come to see the facts differently. Of course facts, rather than opinions, are always what we should rely on and that lesson is as important in January 2017, as it was over 60 years ago when the play was first written.
The individual performances in this production are superb from Stephen Swift, Micky Goldstein, Scott D’Vileskis, Danny Santiago, Stan Rosen, Marc Rehr, Omar Latiri, Robert Mostow, Bob Schwartz, Phil Kibak, Jason Damaso, and Jim Kitterman.
Each man has his own personality, his own life experiences, and his own biases. Yet, it is truly an ensemble endeavor. For example, it is supposedly the hottest day of the year and the fan isn’t working, so when each actor periodically wipes his face with his handkerchief, we could almost “feel” the heat and the sweat.
Stephen Swift does a fantastic job in his portrayal of Juror #3. He is obviously the angriest of the twelve angry men and is prone to acts of violence against his fellow jurors. Swift gets red in the face as he has to be pulled away from another man while screaming “I’m going to kill you!” He is accused of being a sadist because he not only believes the defendant is guilty, but he wants to “pull the switch” on the electric chair.
Juror #8 is the iconoclast and is beautifully played by Omar Latiri. In the first vote, he is the only one who believes the defendant is not guilty and he has to control his anger and try to convince the others. Latiri gives a nuanced performance as he thinks through the evidence and comes up with counter-arguments one at a time.
Micky Goldstein gives a brilliant performance as Juror #4, the only juror who does not perspire. He believes the defendant is guilty but he controls his anger by logically and methodically enumerating each piece of evidence.
The role of Juror #9 is played by Rob Mostow as an old man with a sharp mind. One of the eyewitnesses was an older man and Mostow is excellent as he empathizes with the witness and explains to his fellow jurors that the testimony might have been influenced by personal, rather than probative, factors.
Bob Schwartz is wonderful as Juror #10, an anti-intellectual bigot who does not control his anger. He exclaims that he is “tired of facts” and tells another juror that he “thinks too much.” He talks about “those people” who drink too much and for whom violence is a way of life, so he just assumes that the defendant is guilty. Nevertheless, when he finally pushes away from the jury table to silently reconsider, we could almost see the wheels turning in his head.
And that’s just a sample of the performances!
Twelve Angry Men is a scintillating blend of raw emotion and high stakes where individual life stories are gradually revealed. It is rather like eating an artichoke, peeling off one leaf at a time, and will keep you riveted to your seat until the very end.
This classic drama should not be missed, so get your tickets today!
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Twelve Angry Men plays through January 22, 2017 at Sandy Spring Theatre Group, performing at the Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 258-6394 or purchase them online.