Watching any version of “Twelve Angry Men”—be it the seminal 1957 movie starring Henry Fonda or that episode of “Hey Arnold!” where the gang has to decide whether Eugene pulled the fire alarm or not—is like being hit on the head with a baseball bat: it’s obvious, it’s American, and it’s something that you tend to remember. The play smacks you with its righteous indignation at all of society’s ills and doesn’t let up until you want to strap on the shining armor and ride to the defense of the huddled masses chafing under the tyranny of the majority. It almost makes you want to do jury duty—almost.
HRDC’s production—which was directed by Joey J. Kim ’15 and ran at Agassiz Theatre through December 8—is true to the play’s moral didacticism. “Twelve Angry Men” revolves around Juror 8 (John L. Pizzato ’16) who alone among all of the jurors in a murder trial is unconvinced the defendant is guilty. Using both cold logic and an unshakable belief in the merits of the judicial system he tries to convince his fellow jurors that the defendant should be allow to go free because there is a reasonable doubt as to whether or not he committed the crime. The show boasted a very strong cast and costume design, and, apart from some slight directorial hitches, succeeded brilliantly in capturing the nuances of the characters.
All of the acting was good, but certain performances stood out from the rest. Peter K. Bestoso ’14 gave above and beyond the best performance as Juror 3, a hot-tempered man who serves as the play’s main antagonist. His performances was a perfect mix of confrontational and defensive. In an understated moment Bestoso’s character reveals that his son ran away from home. Bestoso’s face manages to reveal a sense of loss and vulnerability that is in contrast to his aggressive body language expressed through his painfully tense arms and shoulders. It is a very nuanced moment that fits his character’s inherent dichotomy—body language like this shows not only his impossibly high emotional walls, but also the fragile man that hides behind them
Pizzato also gives a standout performance. Juror 8 is usually portrayed as a sort of paragon of rationality, but Pizzato added some much needed complexity to the role. He played his character as preachy and stand-offish without compromising the logical side that makes him such a strong protagonist. Just as Juror 8 is the “logical” character, Juror 2 (Lelaina E. Vogel ’15) is the “mousy” one, whose voice struggles to be heard in a room full of big personalities. Vogel played up her character’s shy side, which allowed the tentative steps into the limelight that Juror 2 takes seem like courageous acts in comparison. Her performances did a wonderful job at highlighting the dual nature of her character.
A show with a large cast that is always onstage offers a unique directorial challenge, but Kim rose to the task. Except for the most active scenes, most moments featured several actors moving the plot along while the others form a frame. These characters were positioned around the stage to allow them to react to the action onstage without interrupting the flow of the narrative. For example, verbal descriptions of the murder were acted out by cast members on an elevated platform at the back of the stage, giving a gritty weight behind their descriptions. The lighting—designed by Sam K. Smith ’15 and Becca J. Mazur ’15, a Crimson arts staff writer—was also used to heighten the visual element of the show. For example, when Juror 8 is conducting a thought experiment dependant on how long it takes a train to pass a given point, lights sweep the stage, almost as if being shown through the windows of a moving train. These techniques fit in well with the play’s overall aesthetics, which combined costumes seemingly inspired by “Blade Runner”—complete with 80’s sci-fi inspired eye-makeup and flamboyant future-chic costumes designed by costume designers Rachel A. Gibian ’15 and Angela J. Oh ’15—and a spartan set made up of movable wooden desks and stools.
However, sometimes it seemed like the overall understanding was sacrificed in favor of this visual sense. For example, many actors delivered emotionally charged monologues on top of a raised platform at the back of the stage. However, it was sometimes difficult to hear these speeches—especially given the less-than-perfect acoustics in Agassiz Theatre. Also, often times a heated dialogue would take place in a semi-circle made up of other members of the cast. Visually this was effective—it both heightened the drama of the moment and added a claustrophobic feel to the scene––however, it made it difficult to really see the actor’s expressions, and ultimately cheapened the scene’s overall emotional impact.
“Twelve Angry Men” is a difficult play to pull off. Its heavy moralising and stereotypical characters don't leave much room for interpretation. However, by combining a classic script with a bold visual style, the production keep what is good about this American classic while imprinting it with their own unique mark.
—Staff Writer Noah S. Guiney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Jan. 12, 2013
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Lelaina E. Vogel ’15, who played the character Juror 2 in “Twelve Angry Men.”