FLORIDA WEEKLY EXCLAIMS: DELIVERING THE VERDICT ON ‘TWELVE ANGRY MEN’: SEE IT!
by Nancy Stetson
For most of the men who walk into Jury Room No. 3 to deliberate on the case that’s just been presented to them, it’s open-and-shut: The 16-year-old boy on trial is guilty of murdering his father. No question about it.
They don’t think it’s worth discussing, even though a guilty verdict means the boy will be sentenced to death and die in an electric chair.
Juror No. 7 (Greg Longenhagen) has tickets to a ballgame that night and doesn’t want to miss it.
The others have made up their minds already. It’s the hottest day of the year, and they just want to go home and go back to their lives.
All except for Juror No. 8 (V. Craig Heidenreich), who says he has a reasonable doubt and calls for a vote. He’s appalled his fellow jurors would convict without any discussion, especially with a human life in the balance.
And so begins “Twelve Angry Men.”
You might think watching a dozen men discuss a court case — especially one you haven’t even been privy to — would be unbearably tedious. Even the environment (designed by Dennis Maulden) — a dingy, institutional room with smudged windows and heavy, wood chairs and table — seems intensely boring.
But this play is anything but.
“Twelve Angry Men” is gripping, dramatic, suspenseful. Director Charles Morey keeps the play moving along with no lulls or dull spots. It’s a skill to have this many actors onstage all at once, and yet keep it dynamic and realistic.
The men on the jury are of varying ages, professions, backgrounds.
But they are all male. And all white.
Playwright Reginald Rose’s script never specifically says what the defendant is, racially or ethnically.
But we do know the boy has had a rough life. His mother died when he was 9, and his father, who has served time in prison, beats him with his fists. He lives in a slum. He’s no angel; he’s been in scrapes with the law before.
And the evidence seems pretty damning.
He’s definitely seen as “other” by these jurors, one of who, at one point, refers to “those people.”
The room is hot. The men are tired. They’re annoyed, angry that this one lone juror is keeping them from going home.
Mr. Heidenreich plays the role just right; he’s not claiming the boy is innocent, but he has certain doubts, and raises questions he feels should have been raised by the boy’s lawyer — a public defender appointed by the court. He takes his role as a juror seriously.
Though the play is more than 60 years old, “Twelve Angry Men” is as highly relevant — and just as fresh — as today’s news.
Originally a televised play on CBS’s “Studio One” in 1954 and then a Broadway play, it gives us a ringside seat to what goes on in a jury room.
It demonstrates how our judicial system is both a wonderful and scary thing.
There’s supposed to be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Jurors are supposed to be impartial. Jurors are also supposed to give a non-guilty verdict if there’s any reasonable doubt; the prosecution must prove its case.
But justice doesn’t always happen.
Certain not-guilty verdicts in murder cases in recent years, where juries appear to ignore the facts and hand down verdicts based purely on race, have sparked outrage and protests nationwide.
Google the phrase “exonerated after 30 years in prison” and you’ll find numerous accounts of innocent men in Texas, Alabama, New York, Pennsylvania, who were wrongly accused and spent three decades of their lives behind bars.
The world was appalled by the ruling in a case late last year in the UK of a Saudi millionaire on trial for raping an 18-year-old girl who was asleep on a couch. He claimed that he might have tripped and fallen on her, “accidentally penetrating her.” Apparently finding that explanation plausible, the jury acquitted him after only 30 minutes of deliberation.
Florida Rep’s “Twelve Angry Men” is a stunning ensemble piece. With 13 actors (there’s a court guard as well as the jurors), there are too many to praise by name.
Mr. Heidenreich, as Juror No. 8, is a decent guy, noble. He’s the conscience of the jury room. (Costume designer Stefanie Genda has dressed him in a light-colored suit, subtly signifying his goodness.)
Graham Smith, who manages to disguise and transform himself with every new role, plays Juror No. 11, an immigrant with great respect for the American judicial system.
Local actor Stephen Hooper plays mild-mannered Juror No. 2, a milquetoast man who appears afraid of this own shadow. And although Chet Carlin as Juror No. 9 doesn’t have many lines, he makes the most of the ones he does have, as an endearing older man who at one point, itching to get into a fight, mutters, “I’d like to be a little younger!”
Mr. Longenhagen, as Juror No. 7, provides much comic relief. Though he’s sitting, you can tell he’s anxious to leave, from his jittery leg and pencil tapping on the tabletop. He’s as irritating as a mosquito, a little bantam rooster who thinks he’s a heavyweight. But he makes you laugh almost every time he opens his mouth.
Other ensemble members besides Mr. Longenhagen include Jason Parrish as Juror No. 1, the foreman. His character, a high school football coach from Queens, tries to be fair and control the other jurors, but they are stronger-willed and rowdier than the boys he coaches.
Peter Thomasson, who recently played the Devil in Fla Rep’s “The Seafarer” and the rich father in “The Cocktail Hour,” is Juror No. 4, a buttoned-down broker in a dark three-piece suit, there because it’s his civic duty and obviously feeling superior to the others.
But it is Craig Bockhorn (“The Seafarer”) as Juror No. 3 and ensemble member William McNulty (“Red”) as Juror No. 10, who provide most of the play’s fire and venom in scenes that practically explode off the stage. They are both bullies, terrorizing the rest of the jurors and pressuring them to deliver a guilty verdict. Mr. McNulty’s bigoted diatribe against immigrants and “those people” is so ugly it shocks the others into silence.
“Twelve Angry Men” has been touted as demonstration of our judicial system at work, but it is also a primer in how to identify bullying.
Jurors No. 3 and No. 10 are the epitome of bullies; watching them, you see exactly how bullies operate: They attempt to get their way by intimidating or threatening others. They yell — especially when logic and facts are not in their favor. They use verbal abuse and even physical force — or the threat of it —when they’re not getting their way.
They are anti-intellectualism, claiming, “When you think too much, you get mixed up. ”
They steamroll everyone else, as if their opinions are the only ones that count.
They mock others, calling them names or insulting them.
We’ve all run into people like this in the playground, at home, in the office or in the political arena.
Edmund Burke famously said that, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
“Twelve Angry Men” shows what can happen when good men, despite their fears, speak up.