By Arlene McKanic
Sometimes when I watch “Dateline” or some other show where a jury has had to decide the fate of this or that miscreant, I can’t help but wonder what really went on in the jury room — they almost always find the defendants guilty, even after being presented with what looks like the most threadbare evidence.
“12 Angry Men,” Reginald Rose’s iconic play, currently running at the BroadHollow Theatre in Elmont, not only tackles why and how a jury does what it does, but has pointed things to say about the society outside the locked room that are just as relevant today as they were in the 1950s, when the play was written.
The plot is simple. A boy has been accused of murdering his father. An elderly man in the apartment below theirs claims that he heard the boy scream “I’ll kill you!” and then the thud as the body hit the floor. He went to his door just in time to see the perp run down the stairs. A lady who lives in the building across from the crime scene said she saw the murder through the windows of the last two trains of a passing el.
The boy is arrested and tried and 12 male jurors, all white guys but from various backgrounds, are given the case.
If the boy is found guilty, he gets the chair.
Director Marian Waller’s interpretation of the play is masterly, but I think the characters of the jurors, who go by their numbers and not their names, have been altered a bit.
In the original play —unusual in that it was adapted for the stage from Rose’s teleplay by Stephen Sergel — the foreman, here played by Stephen Ryan, is supposed to be a bit of a jerk. In this version he’s reasonable and calm, though not possessed of the thoroughgoing logic of Juror No. 8, played by Bob Lingner.
But the ensemble team of Ryan, Eric Clavell as the meek Juror No. 2, Frank DiSpigno, Gary Tifeld, Michael Goodwin, Joe Mankowski, Evan Donnellan, Lingner, W. Gordon Innes, John Leone, Gary Milenko, James Duggan and Glen J. Beck as the voice of the judge, is one of the more powerful that I’ve seen.
Bob Butterly’s set, of a brown, shabby high ceilinged room with beat-up furniture that everyone in the audience has been in at one point or another, is brilliant, as is Erick Creegan’s lighting, which adds to the sense of claustrophobia and frustration. Within these walls the men act out their commitment to truth and justice as well as their rage and bigotry — the scene where the men stand and turn their backs, one by one, on the juror who launches into a racist rant is still breathtaking.
Jason Allyn’s costumes, which have the men in drab, regulation suits, ties, hats and scuffed shoes (you can almost see the airholes) perfectly reflect the time and place.
This is a great production of a great play that’s not ashamed to wear its liberal heart on its sleeve.
If You Go
12 Angry Men
When: Remaining dates March 4-5 at 8 p.m.; March 6 at 2:30 p.m.
Where: BroadHollow Theatre, 700 Hempstead Turnpike, Elmont
Cost: $23 for adults, $21 for seniors, $18 for students, and $14 for youths 12 and under; all tickets $25 at the door.
Web site: www.broadhollow.org