The gripping courtroom drama “12 Angry Men” is a challenge for any theater troupe. Staging is tough, the roles are demanding, and Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film version set the bar almost impossibly high.
But the Little Theatre Group has done an impressive job.
Co-directed by Tom Humes and his wife, Lisa DeFuso, the play converts 12 expatriates – a medley of teachers, retirees and others – into jurors who must decide whether to send a Puerto Rican teenager to the electric chair for killing his father. Bias and preconceptions are exposed as Juror No. 8 tries to convince 11 peers that there is reasonable doubt as to the boy’s guilt.
Drawing on little experience, the actors played their roles with energy and conviction, although a few lines were difficult to hear.
The British Joseph Loveday did a sharp job as Juror No. 4, a no-nonsense businessman.
Clad in a buttoned-up gray suit, he looked down his spectacles and touched his fingertips together as he tried to decipher the case with logic, not emotion.
Co-director Humes, who stepped into his role as Juror No. 3 just two weeks before opening night because of a dropout, shone as an angry, barrel-chested father determined to send the defendant to his death.
Grady Bruce, who plays the racist Juror No. 10, delivered a powerful monologue slandering “this kid on trial here” and “his type.”
The set design was clever. The cracked green wallpaper was smeared with steam stains above the coffee pot and near the floor, where a mop presumably had hit the wall over and over.
The coffee table on stage left and a water cooler on stage right gave actors a good excuse to step away from the main jury table.
A portrait of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia hung on the wall, though he would have been 18 when Reginald Rose wrote the play in 1954.
Co-director DeFuso said Scalia was meant to represent a nameless judge; she did not want to date the play.
“If you put it in real time, people could say, ‘Well it’s not like that anymore’ – and it is. There are still prejudices,” she said.
Staging 12 men in the same room across 85 minutes is a challenge, and the directors, who planned the moves with chess pieces, did a solid job.
They made one perplexing decision. Juror No. 8, arguably the star of the play, played by Dennis Atkinson, sat at the jury table with his back to the audience, and he delivered many of his lines there.
The table was too small for everyone to show his face, but a more minor character could have been sacrificed. Watching the back of Juror No. 8’s head was a bit distracting and reduced his effectiveness.
The intermission, 55 minutes into an 85-minute play, was also somewhat disruptive.
The directors could have pushed through without a break so as not to disrupt the play’s carefully calculated flow.
The production seemed to end abruptly, too – in part because the directors cut a touching last scene in which Juror No. 8 and Juror No. 9 finally exchange names.
These are minor details. Energetic acting and thoughtful directing, combined with a great script, make this production a delight – even for those spoiled by Lumet’s masterpiece.
“12 Angry Men” plays through Sunday at the Laurence Olivier Theater, next to Sala Garbo off Paseo Colón in San José. Showtimes are tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For reservations and information, call 8355-1623 or go to www.littletheatregroup.org.