Sixty-three years after Reginald Rose’s landmark jury-room drama “12 Angry Men” first electrified television audiences, this story and its conflicting characters continue to hold audiences in thrall.
In a powerful revival at the Laguna Playhouse, Rose’s masterpiece has lost none of its impact, even though most playgoers will be well aware of the show’s outcome. Director Michael Matthews’ excellent ensemble creates a riveting, no-holds-barred production.
The program lists no time period, but merely the fact that most, if not all, of the jurors wear hats firmly establishes the play in its birth year of 1954. Unfortunately, little has changed since then regarding doggedly held prejudices and attitudes.
The jurors are summoned to decide the fate of a 16-year-old boy accused of stabbing his father to death. Eleven of them believe the lad is guilty, but one maintains there is reasonable doubt and gradually others fall in line with him.
In the key role of the holdout juror, made memorable by Henry Fonda in the movie version, Seamus Dever seems like a David against a cadre of Goliaths, but his determined attitude and intellectual reasoning soon even the odds in a riveting interpretation.
As his prime antagonist, in the “Lee J. Cobb role,” Richard Burgi dominates the stage with his physical presence and raging rebuttals. Only his eventual capitulation veers from total believability in an otherwise magnificent performance.
Among the supporting ranks, John Massey supplies some much-needed comic relief as the baseball fan squirming with unused tickets to a Yankees game. Rick Cosnett provides a cool contrast as a methodical stockbroker, though he appears a bit young for the role, and Dennis Renard crackles as a juror who grew up in the city’s slums.
Matthew Henerson struggles to maintain order as the jury foreman, a high school football coach in the game of his life. Mueen Janan and Tony Sancho add flavor as ordinary citizens. Eric Odom provides the cliched and corny character as a Madison Avenue huckster.
John Colella channels the vitriolic and fiercely bigoted character once played by Ed Begley. His epithet-laced tirade near the climax is one of the show’s peak moments.
Fiery thrusts from elderly jurors Andrew Barnicle and David Nevell enliven the proceedings, especially when Nevell’s foreign-born character corrects a native’s English (an applause-drawing moment). Daniel Berlin completes the cast as a courtroom guard.
Stephen Gifford’s vintage scenic design further establishes the grim mood, as do Tim Swiss’ arcane lighting effects. Kate Bergh’s period costumes also are quite effective.
Even if you’ve seen “12 Angry Men” a dozen times over the years, you’ll still be moved by this high-voltage production at the Laguna Playhouse.
If You Go
What: “12 Angry Men”
When: Till Oct. 22; performance times vary
Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
Cost: Tickets start at $60
Information: (949) 497-2787 or visit lagunaplayhouse.com.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater.