Although more than 50 years have passed since Reginald Rose’s ‘Twelve Angry Men’ first aired as a teleplay, the drama--which just opened at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater--remains as evocative and hard-hitting as ever. Rather than centering on the courtroom theatrics, Rose shifted his focus to the behind-the-scenes dynamics of a jury considering a homicide verdict. The choice to examine what takes place behind these closed doors made ‘Twelve Angry Men’ a classic. Engeman’s production, masterfully directed by Igor Goldin, is thought-provoking and takes the audience on an emotional roller-coaster ride.
The high profile case, one that could have very easily been gleaned from recent headlines, involves a 16-year-old boy from the slums accused of the cold-blooded murder of his father. The defense and prosecution have rested their cases. The set is darkened, but in a voice-over, the judge instructs the jury of the seriousness of their judicial obligation in determining if there is reasonable doubt. The stakes couldn’t be higher. If they unanimously conclude that the defendant is guilty, the young man faces a mandatory death sentence by electric chair.
The twelve men file into the deliberation room on a steamy hot day. To convey the universality of the experience about to unfold, the audience never learns the names of the defendant, his father or even the jurors. They are ordinary men of diverse backgrounds and ages- a watchmaker, an architect, a stockbroker, an elderly gentleman, an advertising agent, a house painter—brought together for the same purpose-- to decide the fate of a troubled youth who might or might not have committed an unspeakable crime. What first seems to be an open-and-shut case evolves into something quite different when a sole juror, identified only as juror # 8, voices his uneasy desire to reexamine the evidence. After all, a young man’s life hangs in the balance. By standing alone in the name of justice and the democratic process, this man ignites an emotional tug-of-war which engages every juror and the audience in the decision-making process.
Is truth ever spelled out for us in black and white? This drama is about looking hard at ‘facts’ which can prove to be mercurial, and the prejudices, preconceptions, and even inner demons that can dictate our judgments, both consciously and unconsciously. The troupe works together as an ensemble and play off each other perfectly. Casting Director Stephen DeAngelis’ choices are exemplary, and everyone will have their preferences. I particularly liked the maverick juror (Steven Hauck), the logical stockbroker (Philip Hoffman), the astute elderly gentleman (Joseph Ragno) and the immigrant watchmaker ( Leer Leary). But you be the judge.
Jonathan Collins, who is known for his spectacular sets, has created a masterpiece in keeping with the importance of the jurors’ mission: the pursuit of justice.
Mr. Collins said that he was fascinated by the fact that the drama is structured like a courtroom scene, yet takes place in a jury room. He wanted his venue to set the tone for the jurors’ sacred and extremely difficult task.
His research included visiting the Supreme Court building in Manhattan and in the end he used architectural columns and a stately wooden door to bring weight and grandeur to the deliberation room, a faded faux hall of justice which would have born witness to countless deliberations over the years.
Driscoll Otto’s side lighting adds drama and interest by directing our attention to the charming architectural details and the crumbling plaster and peeling paint which give the room a sense of history, Mr. Collins explained.
“Twelve Angry Men” runs through November 3. The Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main St., Northport Village. Tickets can be purchased at the theater's box office, by calling (631) 261-2900 or by visiting www.engemantheater.com.