New York City Theater
"Twelve Angry Men"
American Airlines Theatre (Roundabout Theatre Company)
There is nothing like a good old-fashioned well-constructed play. No flashbacks. No magic realism. No playing fast and loose with time. Reginald Rose's "Twelve Angry Men," now enjoying a revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company, is just such a play. And adding to its intensity is its observance of the classic unities. The drama unfolds in one place and time, moving relentlessly to its denouement.
It all takes place in the jurors' room, where twelve men debate the fate of one delinquent youth who is charged with the murder of his father. On the initial vote in this manslaughter case, eleven men vote "guilty" and one "not guilty," based, as he says, on reasonable doubt. Others, eager to finish the business, are furious with his hold-out, but gradually, as he spells out each reasonable doubt, others come round.
Though the story is formulaic and contrived, it works beautifully. We anticipate the inevitable conclusion, but we are nevertheless caught up in the conflict as the tension mounts. Rose has sharply delineated each of his characters, each with his own agenda, and their disagreements are quite believable. Moreover, he cleverly spells out each of the "reasonable doubts," doubts which had not been explored during the actual trial.
In this production director Scott Ellis oversees an excellent cast which he welds into a flawless ensemble. Included are such fine veteran performers as Boyd Gaines, Philip Bosco, and Larry Byggman.
Rose wrote the play originally in the 1950s as a one-hour television show, which, given its immediate success, moved on to stage and film versions. In some aspects "Twelve Angry Men" has become curiously dated. For instance, there are no women, blacks or other minorities on that jury. And though the racist streak is clearly identifiable in some of the jurors, no minority groups are ever mentioned. Rose merely suggests the minorities by referring to "they"-presumably people who come from the slums.
But, hey, it was the 1950s, a time when everyone appeared to be white, male, Caucasian, ham-on-white. And why quibble over these flaws? "Twelve Angry Men" is a thoroughly satisfying play which still packs a wallop.
-- Irene Backalenick
Dec. 8, 2004