Twelve is the Angriest Number
Brian Mackey, director of the next installment of Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series Monday evening at the Encinitas Library, says this is the main reason he chose to include Twelve Angry Men in this year’s lineup.
“When I was asked to come up with a list of plays I would like to see read, Twelve Angry Men was one of the first on my list,” he says. “The thought of getting together twelve of some of my absolute favorite male actors in San Diego was too much to pass up.”
The play features in “juror order” (hold on to your seats!) Eddie Yaroch, Robert Biter, Matt Scott, Eric Poppick, Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Danny Campbell, Brian Rickel, Tom Stephenson, Jim Chovick, Tim West, Patrick McBride and Jonathan Sachs. San Diego has never seen a theatrical experience quite like this one.
Written by Reginald Rose in 1955 and made famous with the 1957 film adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet, Twelve Angry Men remains one of the cornerstones of American theatre, tackling issues of democratic justice as well as the inner workings of the process that delivers that justice. The entire piece is set in the jury room of a murder trial where the fate of the defendant is deliberated over a 90-minute time frame.
But according to Brian, this play is less about the trial and more about the jurors themselves.
“There is something very primitive about this piece,” says Brian. “It deals with how men interact with each other. Who is the top dog? How do you prove yourself to the rest of the pack? Do you have the courage to stand alone? Those questions are timeless.”
Eric Poppick, who will be portraying Juror #4 (the characters are all identified by their numbers), agrees that the story is an analysis of the ensemble of actors and what their dialogue – or silence – may reveal.
“What I’ve always loved about the play is that there are very different personalities involved,” says Eric, “and even the quiet ones can stand out because they have a vote and they can make or break our decision.”
The setting of the jury room provides the structure in which these personalities can be revealed, while also uncovering the power play of the justice system. For this reason, Twelve Angry Men has remained significant for analysts of both American theatre as well as the American legal system.
“…The processes of social influence and persuasion that take place during deliberation are intricate and powerful,” says Dr. Brian Bornstein in his article The Jury’s Trials. “The jury is not just the sum of its parts…the deliberation process itself illustrates the importance of understanding how groups reach a consensus, as well as how individual jurors form impressions and judgments.”
“For someone who’s never sat in a jury room, it is quite interesting to see the dynamics and see how the decisions are made or change and are re-made,” says Eric, agreeing that the setting provides for the tension of the play. “Trial scenes are riveting especially when you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
How this dramatic tension unfolds theatrically and accessibly is a testament to the quality of the play’s writing. According to Brian, it is the tempo of the conversation and the musicality of the dialogue that heighten the action of the play – and expose the inner thoughts of each character.
“They are forced to look at inside themselves and confront who they are and what they believe,” says Brian. “That can be a difficult thing. Many of the men discover things they would rather see buried.”
Having to do that in a room full of strangers would probably make any of us a little bit angry. Thankfully, we have a room full of amazing actors to do it for us.
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, April 28. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.