Curtain Call’s ‘12 Angry Men’ is highly compelling theater

Jim Dorman

Often, the best plays are the ones in which you identify with the characters; the ones where you think, "What would I do if I were in their place?''

With Reginald Rose’s jury-room drama "12 Angry Men,'' that was easy for me, having served on a jury at a murder trial three years ago. Knowing just how difficult that was for me and my fellow jurors, I wondered if the Curtain Call Theater could capture the internal and external turmoil that occurs when 12 strangers try to reach consensus on an issue as important as the fate of an accused murderer.

Happily, director Michael Pevzner and his cast are up to the challenge.

They have created a gripping portrayal. No moment or acting performance is wasted. They are all as important as each juror’s vote.

The play has been produced several times, but the version that is the most recognizable is the 1957 movie directed by Sidney Lumet ("Serpico,'' "Dog Day Afternoon'').

It featured some of Hollywood’s best, including Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, Ed Begley and Jack Klugman.

Curtain Call has managed to create a version that is quite faithful to the movie. It’s not so much that they mimic scenes, although one could argue that they do, it’s that each actor has obviously put their heart and soul into their performances.

It’s like watching a finely tuned jazz band. They work well together, and when it’s their turn in the spotlight, they soar.

As the play progresses, each juror must face their prejudices, as they deliberate the fate of a young man accused of killing his aggressive father.

The verdict is stalled by the sole juror who has a "reasonable doubt'' – Juror 8. It is a difficult role and David Edge comes off as reasonable, thoughtful and brave in it.

Eventually, the other jurors start to question their beliefs and realize that they need to take a closer look at the case, and listen to the different points of view.

Although Juror 4 (Jonathan Young), disagrees with the not-guilty vote, he at least is willing to discuss the case. Edge and Young (both lawyers in real life) come off as rational and intelligent throughout the play.

Offsetting their contemplative deliberations are the bigoted rants of jurors 3 and 10, played skillfully and powerfully by Glenn Ryan and Mark Anderson, respectively.

Their characters’ inflammatory words and accusations nearly lead to several physical altercations, as neither of these bullies makes any effort to disguise their disgust for anyone who thinks this boy, or anyone like him, could be innocent.

Both actors are so strong and their characters so contemptible, it is easy to forget they are acting.

Jurors 5 (Dane Grigas), 9 (Ben Brenner), and 11 (Juan Carlos Pinedo) each help persuade their fellow jurors, and the audience, that there are valid reasons why the evidence should be questioned.

Grigas gains credibility as the streetwise juror. Brenner shows courage and wisdom as the oldest. And, Pinedo is stirring as a proud and righteous immigrant who understands the magnitude of his role as a juror.

His character brings shame upon Juror 7 (Jim Gross), whose main concern seems to be whether or not he will make it to the Yankees game on time.

The foreman (Mark Logue), jurors 2 (Peter Kates), 6 (Ed Krasnow) and 12 (K. Lance Wesley) may not be as strong-willed as the others, but in them we may see ourselves, people who can find the strength to make an informed decision, rather than just going along with the crowd.

It’s not easy, and these actors and characters help us see that.

Colin Turtle provided a further element of realism as the guard, the jury’s only contact with the outside world.

Jim Gross’s set design, including the faux tile floor, antique fan and old-fashioned doors and windows, are quite realistic.

It looked eerily like the drab room we deliberated in three years ago, and helped me recall the important work we did there.

The Patriot Ledger