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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 3:42 am | Fog/Mist 53º

 
 
 
 

‘Twelve Angry Men’ Still Enthralls

Center Stage Theater performance proves powerful play has not lost its appeal after more than 50 years.

The enduring power of theater is demonstrated once again by the production of Twelve Angry Men at Center Stage Theater, still provocative after 50-plus years.

The teleplay by Reginald Rose was first aired in 1954, and has been adapted and re-adapted over the years. Here it is, in the round, an innovative staging that may be a first. The cast members are all local, top-notch actors, and the play was adapted for this production by Sherman Sergel.

Katie Laris of Santa Barbara City College directed it at an electric pace; the tension among the jurors veritably crackles.

In 1954, women seldom if ever served on a jury in this country. Laris said she thought of casting a few women, but realized that this dialogue was written for men. Additionally, earlier stage and film productions were shrouded in cigarette and pipe tobacco smoke throughout. Laris said she nixed that element for reasons of health for both cast and audience.

So here are one dingy jury room, a cast of 13 men (including the bailiff), and mostly talk with an occasional physical tussle. No special effects, no chorus, no huge cast and elaborate sets. It is a spectacle of the mind and heart only.

Brian Harwell is Juror No. 8, the role played most famously by Henry Fonda. His is the voice of reason, while the other jurors immediately decide on a guilty verdict for the 16-year-old defendant. The boy is charged with stabbing his abusive father in a fit of rage.

Open and shut is what the pro-guilty voters see, but Juror 8 introduces the element of doubt, reasonable doubt. The jury room is hot, the panel members are tired and want to go home, and they can’t understand why one man will hold out for more discussion before a decision is reached.

As Juror 8 describes his own doubts, the other jurors — one by one — begin to rethink their own conclusions. In the process, each man’s fears, guilts and class resentments are exposed.

The audience on Saturday night included two pre-teen boys who fidgeted a bit, then became absorbed in the drama, and ended up hanging on every word. That’s a fair assessment of this production’s impact.

The other cast members, all outstanding, are Stuart Orenstein, Alfred St. John, Ed Giron, Wilson Smith, Clyde Sacks, Mark Anthony Lee, Jerry Oshinsky, Tim Whitcomb, Bill Waxmen, Ben Chang, George Coe and Gene Garcia. John Barron provides the unseen judge’s voice at the play’s beginning.

Considering the teleplay origin of Angry Men, it’s a nice touch that the set is basically black and white and the men’s suits are mostly shades of gray. Television once had a role to play in the fine arts, and merits credit for it.

Performances take place at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Aug. 2 at Center Stage Theater at Paseo Nuevo. Matinees will be performed at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Click here to purchase tickets online or for more information or call 805.963.0408.

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