On Theater: Strong verdict for 'Twelve Angry Men'

Nearly 60 years have passed since Reginald Rose's "Twelve Angry Men" first stirred viewers of TV's "Westinghouse Studio One," and the subsequent movie version became even more memorable for the superb performances of Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb as jury room antagonists in a teenager's murder trial.

The stage version, published in 1955, has become a staple of community theaters and colleges ever since, often in a mixed-gender format called "Twelve Angry Jurors." The original concept currently is on stage at Golden West College in an interpretation that is both cerebrally and emotionally charged.

Director Martie Ramm has chosen two excellent actors to fill the roles made indelible by Fonda and Cobb. GWC newcomer Brock Joseph underscores both the intellectual and visceral aspects of his character, the Fonda role, as he ascends from the short end of a 11-1 vote for guilty to win the hearts and minds of his fellow jurors.

As the chief antagonist (Cobb's role), Christian Navarro excels as an embittered juror estranged from his own son who injects personal invective into the deliberations. The corpulent Navarro blatantly uses his physical presence to overshadow conflicting opinions.

Another riveting performance comes from Matthew Muggia as a juror governed by lifelong prejudice against "those people" (Rose does not clarify the ethnicity of the defendant, but we assume he's a minority). Muggia's vindictive rant, turning even his strongest allies against him, is scathingly delivered.

Devon Suraco has some fine moments as the calm and reasoned Wall Street broker, the only one who leaves his coat on (he doesn't sweat). Dale Lendrum lends brash comic relief as the juror who's missing a baseball game, while Brigham Hughes maintains a shaky control as the jury foreman.

As the eldest member of the jury, Nick Pappas presents a view unique to his station in life, while Thomas Trinity, the foreign-born juror, makes some indelible points from his perspective. Shaun Ausmus as the meek, clerical type is marginally effective.

Nick Slimmer and Alex Vazquez enact characters representing the street-level segment of society, while Tyler Hill draws some chuckles as the Madison Avenue spin master. Each contributes in minor measure to the overall scenario.

Ramm has positioned the actors so that most face front, and shuffles them about to give each the spotlight in his particular "moment." The use of tension-induced silence is another point in the show's favor.

Sigrid Hammer Wolf's spacious jury room setting, with its windows opened to the New York hustle and bustle, is instantly believable, as is her lighting design with a hint of gloom. The costumes by Susan Thomas Babb are well executed — since the show is set in 1957, most jurors wear hats.

After six decades, few playgoers will be astonished by the verdict, but getting there is where the Golden West production makes its mark. The Golden Age of television drama still glitters on the GWC stage.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.

If You Go

What: "Twelve Angry Men"

Where: Golden West College Mainstage Theater

When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $13 to $15

Information: (714) 985-8150 or http://www.gwctheater.com

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