Life and death

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  November 13, 2006

Although the play creaks a little, it surprises with its pertinence — underlined, no doubt, by such seemingly unconsidered verdicts as that in the O.J. Simpson trial and by current curbs on our allegedly unalienable rights in the name of national security. The period touches — the water cooler and Dixie cups, the bad ties, the men’s fedoras lined up in a row above their outerwear in the large, unappetizingly green chamber where it’s okay to smoke — add to the grubby, sweaty aura of Rose’s impatient 90-minute juggernaut. The turnabout of an entire jury may not ring quite true, and the playwright goes to extremes when he has an unseen judge tell the jury it’s either acquittal or the electric chair for the underprivileged 16-year-old whom some pretty powerful evidence pins as a patricide. But Rose maneuvers his dozen types to make his point about reasonable doubt. Moreover, he was smart to make his all-white jury also all-male, since the presence of women, at least in the ’50s, would have ameliorated the alpha-male bullying that adds to the play’s tension. In this production, there’s enough physical threat afoot that I’d feel justified telling a judge I couldn’t serve on a jury; having just seen Twelve Angry Men, I’d be frightened for my nose, if not my life.

What makes the play resonate most, post 9/11, is the chilling diatribe by bigoted Juror 10, who once he gets going extrudes such an ugly aria of us-against-them racial fear (without ever saying to which lazy, boozing, breeding lot he alludes) that American-Arab hostility and stereotyping must come to mind. At the Colonial, this least attractive of the jurors is rendered by Julian Gamble as a dogged, overbearing dullard who is, however, as pitiful as hateful. The still-boyish Thomas is less heroic in the Fonda role than curious and thoughtful, cutting the static nature of the work with his easy perambulations around the jury table. Wendt’s Juror 1 is a big, square Everyman who takes his foreman’s duty seriously. Alan Mandell, as wrinkled as his linen suit as elderly Juror 9, conveys a man with one foot in the grave but a mind still spry. Mark Morettini is agitatedly credible as the sports nut who doesn’t care who fries as long as he gets to Yankee Stadium. And bullish Randle Mell, as Juror 3, whose barked adamancy turns out to be more personal than objective, makes the most of his character’s melodrama within the melodrama.
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