Pasadena-The premise of “12 Angry Men” is an all-time classic. The original film acted out masterfully by legendary actors Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden and Ed Begley and others, is a piece of theatrical work that is simply timeless.
It is one of those movies you watch that can never get old because of the brilliant work done by the cast of actors and the superb writing that makes it all go right. Duplicating “12 Angry Men” on the backs of these giants would have to be a challenge for any actor considered worth their salt.
The dozen black and white actors bravely taking on this challenge at the Pasadena Playhouse through Dec. 1 seemed to have gotten a grip on the gripping drama that forces an intense look and debate on cultural and race stereotypes and deeply-wound prejudices.
The result is an intense examination about perceived foregone conclusions, a closer journey into one’s own soul and the premise that race, the law and the human spirit can make for a very complicated mess at times. Set amidst the backdrop of the 1950s, we have 12 male jurors deciding the fate of a young Hispanic man, accused of murdering his father.
What appeared to be an easy open and shut case and a rather quick fulfillment of their jury duty turns out to be a nightmarish marathon of sweat, guts and flaring tempers for the sequestered men. In the 1957 $350,000 budgeted drama, the makeup of the jury pool of actors were white.
In this scenario, with an assist to Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director Sheldon Epps, the cast gets an integrated vibe, much like the 1997 remake flick starring George C. Scott, James Edward Olmos, Jack Lemmon and Ossie Davis. Twelve Angry Men was originally written by playwright Reginald Rose, who passed away in 2002. It is one of the more remarkable pieces of theatre work around, let alone become an all-time movie classic.
The scenario plays with the jury being sent to deliberate where they immediately come up with the verdict of guilty. All but one juror, juror No. 8 is lone holdout. He remains that way, setting in motion a chain of events and dialogue within the jury pool that eventually comes around to a “not guilty” verdict before it is all said and done.
But before we get to that point, juror No. 8 has to work the jury room to see his side of the argument, despite the timidity of juror No. 2, the in-your-face racist attitude of juror No. 10 and the relentless bullying and intimidating antics of juror No. 3. Of course, we are all familiar with juror No.8. That is the character that the iconic Honda transformed into a jury hero, a man about conviction and uncompromised morality.
Lemmon later re-worked juror No. 8 in the 1997 remake into his own role. Grey Anatomy’s Jason George gives such a commanding performance as juror No.8 in the stage play of Twelve Angry Men that the audience is kind of persuaded to draw the conclusion that the character was written specifically for him.
George is excellent as the lone dissenter bent on persuading his jurors to think rationally and carefully about the decision they are making about sending a man to execution via the electric chair. George is both charismatic and thoughtful as he worked one side of the jury room to the other side, eventually drawing the support of juror No. 9 (Adolphus Ward). Soon after the gravity of potentially sending an innocent man to die chills on the mind of jurors.
Eventually they all come to the conclusion that George’s juror No. 8 character comes to: reasonable doubt. The high-end drama on stage is worth the price of admission as juror No. 6 (Ellis E. Williams) and juror No. 11 (Clinton Derricks Carroll), juror No. 3 (Gregory North) and juror No. 10 (Bradford Tatum) all deliver their characters into real-life believability.
Twelve Angry Men is a scared piece of theatrical wok. The men re-visiting this monumental work reminds of that.