I have been reviewing the plays from the Utah Shakespeare festival all week. This review is the 5th in a series of six. If you wish to read the other reviews, simple go back or forward in time on the blog.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival does three Shakespeare plays and three non-Shakespeare plays every summer season. One of the non-Shakespeare plays is generally a drama; this year, that drama is Twelve Angry Men.
Twelve Angry Men was originally created as a teleplay, performed before a live audience for Studio One TV in the 1950s. It was later made into a movie and then into a stage play, but the stage play is more like the teleplay, as it is (obviously) meant to have a live audience.
It is an extremely intense play, and director David Ivers has chosen to keep it especially intense by having no intermission, so the audience is trapped in the same room with the 12 men and is carried with their emotions.
David Ivers also explained to those of us attending the first literary seminar that he chose to keep the play in the 1950s, with an all-white, all-male jury, because having women or persons of color would change how the situation is viewed by the audience. One of the main points of the play, after all, is that an all-white jury is trying a case in which both the defendant and the victim are immigrants -- although what race they are is never identified.
The play is about a jury who has listened to several days of testimony about a murder case in which a 16-year-old boy is accused of stabbing his father to death. There is a good deal of circumstantial evidence and two semi-reliable witnesses. As the play begins, 11 of the men are completely and totally convinced of the boy's guilt, but one man does not feel good about sending a boy to the electric chair when he (the juror) cannot convince himself that the case is so cut-and-dry. This juror asks to go over the evidence again. No one is pleased.
As they argue, however, several men begin to realize that they cannot be completely sure of the boy's guilt, either, and everyone's background and prejudices begin to play a part.
This is a fascinating play. It is odd, also, that even though Ivers has kept every single detail (the set is fantastic) in the 1950s, the play still seems so very current right now. Part of this is due to the fact that racial tensions never really leave us; they just switch races with area and time period. Part of this is also that no character ever has a name in the play. Not one. Part of this is that every audience member will identify with SOMEONE: the hurt father, the logical man, the working man who hasn't had the education to keep up with the others, the young man who came from a slum, the man with prejudices, the older man, the immigrant, the shy man, etc.
This is NOT a relaxing play. I was very tense after seeing it, and it took a good hour for me to calm down. But this testifies to the success of the acting and directing. Emotionally, I had a hard time remembering that this was fiction.
Five stars to Twelve Angry Men. This is a superb production.
This photo, other photos of the show, and all ticket info can be found at bard.org.