PLAY REVIEW: TWELVE ANGRY MEN AT THE MALTZ
Reginald Rose's courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men first entered Americans' conscience in 1954, when it was introduced on television. It later became a popular motion picture starring Henry Fonda, and now it's to be seen as a stage play at the MALTZ JUPITER THEATRE in Jupiter.
The script itself is a testimonial to American democracy. In this country an accused person standing trial is assumed to be innocent until proved guilty. That's in stark contrast to most other countries, where persons charged with a crime are compelled to prove their innocence. Twelve Angry Men further makes the bold assumption that one righteous man can change the opinion of eleven of his peers. The script begins when a dozen jurors are called into a small room to deliberate the fate of a young man accused of killing an elder. A preliminary vote is taken. All but one of the jurors finds the accused guilty. Even the twelfth man does not argue that he is innocent. But is the accused "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt"? which is another cornerstone of American jurisprudence. In other words, if there be any doubt whatsoever that the individual charged did not commit the crime in question, that individual must be judged "not guilty" and set free. One by one, as eleven men give their reasons for deciding against the accused, the twelfth man provides sufficient doubt to impel re-thinking of their arguments.
Mr. Rose's script itself is strong, and despite its "liberal" bias in a country that more than half a century later has largely become "conservative," it holds up very well. An American ideal is well served here. More useful perhaps is comparing the various media: television, motion picture and live theater in which the script takes life. On screen, the play is very much a star vehicle. Twelve Angry Men, the movie, not only starred Henry Fonda; he also produced it, and used it as a vehicle to display his own considerable talents. Film can focus on a star and only on a star when it needs to. On stage, this courtroom is "live,"and the twelve men in it are more of an ensemble. No one person dominates. It would be possible for one personality to dominate if a strong director would stage it to to favor one man, but Frank Galati, the director here, chooses not to go that route. In the film, Mr. Fonda, always soft-voiced, nonetheless prevails. On the Maltz stage, the actor playing the same role is also small-voiced, but at any given moment, louder voices compel the viewer in their direction and the star role, if there be one, is diminished.
One of the surprising things about the show at the Maltz is that it lacks intimacy as compared with the screen versions. A film can show men close-up: -- scorning, shouting, tormenting, laughing, weeping -- better than a stage play in which chairs are of necessity sometimes turned with their backs to the audience. Mr. Galati directs well, but at the very end, he misses a key visual element of the script by blocking one of the men. Mr. Galati also told The Palm Beach Post's Hap Erstein that he sees the play as a comedy, and a few people in the audience occasionally laughed at some of the lines. But this is a tense script that builds towards a riveting climax: laughter is something of a distraction in this setting.
You'll like Twelve Angry Men: It grabs at you, gives you pause, makes you ponder what it means to be an American. It's the sort of play, actually, that you wish everyone, including school children -- perhaps, especially, school children -- and persons new to America would/could see. It speaks to the values of our society.
The play runs through November 14. For reservations and additional information, telephone 575-2223 or online at www.jupitertheatre.org.) I've noted in the past that the Maltz has turned itself into a mini-Kravis Center, with many events scheduled during the season. Ask for the season's brochure. A new theatrical musical, Academy, arrives December 7, and in early 2011 the Maltz has three big musicals most Century Villagers would take to their hearts: The Sound of Music, Jolson at the Winter Garden and the Gershwin Brothers' Crazy for You.