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On Theater: ‘Jury Room’ mixes mirth, murder

On Theater: ‘Jury Room’ mixes mirth, murder
Jurors act out a crime according to their trial's testimony in the Westminster Community Playhouse's production of "Jury Room," which runs through Nov. 18. (Photo by Mihai Suciu)

Jurors retire to determine the fate of a young person charged with fatally stabbing a man. Eleven vote for guilty but a lone holdout insists on a verdict of innocent.

Sound familiar? Yes, it's the plot of Reginald Rose's “12 Angry Men,” but it's also the foundation of another theater piece, “The Jury Room,” now on stage at the Westminster Community Playhouse.

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Playwright C.B. Gilford has taken the skeleton of the Rose drama and fleshed it out with a different sort of tale, one in which the jurors act out the crime according to the testimony they've heard. Characterizations are magnified and humor is generously employed.

At Westminster, director Jim Katapodis has peopled his production with several performers undaunted by the limits of stereotype or cliché. These disparate individuals mesh in a generally satisfactory ensemble, although a few rise uncomfortably over the proverbial top.

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All the jurors play two characters — themselves and a figure from the murder case. They're led by Michael Corcoran, strongly enacting the jury foreman and the stabbing victim, and Robyn Couch, convincing as the lone holdout and the accused murderess.

Solid performances are delivered by Maria O'Connor as the primary force for conviction and a strange intruder, J.D. Rinde as a waiter and pretend butler and Avi Micah Brown as a reticent young man who later channels his inner-Henry Fonda to take over the investigation with gusto.

Veteran actresses Laurie Robbins and Kip Hogan revel in makeshift chicanery as they play a pair of crotchety old ladies to the hilt. On the flip side, Julie Ray lends contrast as a painfully introverted juror later cast as a secretary, while Karla Abrams Franklin stretches belief as an astrology-addict-turned-fortune teller.

Stereotyping reigns in high gear in the performances of Kati Moore as a brusquely snappish society lady and Noelle LeBlanc as a ditsy redheaded cross between Goldie Hawn and Judy Holliday at their most outrageous. Eric Schiffer completes the cast as an overbearing juror.

Audience patience may wear a bit thin in the overlong third act in which the mystery is eventually, if ploddingly, solved, but the surprise ending may render it worth the wait. Curiously, three “guest appearances” listed in the program never materialize.

"The Jury Room” may be a blatant ripoff of a classic TV and movie drama, but it's satisfying on its own terms at the Westminster Community Playhouse.

Tom Titus reviews local theater.

IF YOU GO

What: “The Jury Room”

Where: Westminster Community Playhouse, 7272 Maple St., Westminster

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 18

Cost: $20 to $22

Call: (714) 893-8626

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