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Curtain Calls XTRA

By |2003-10-30T09:00:00-05:00October 30th, 2003|Uncategorized|

By John Quinn

Review: ‘Twelve Angry Jurors’
The verdict is in: Difficult drama trips Detroit Ensemble

Tis the season for assumed identities, and the new show at the Detroit Ensemble Theatre is no exception.
Reginald Rose’s drama began life in 1954 as an episode of the CBS anthology series “Studio One” under the more familiar name, “Twelve Angry Men.” Even at the time a homogeneous jury composed of twelve white guys was a dramatic fabrication. The popularity of the 1957 film by Stanley Lumet called for a stage version; the more popular and realistic approach of casting a racially and sexually mixed group called for a name change.
“Twelve Angry Jurors” is set in a cramped jury room where twelve strangers have assembled to deliberate on a capital murder case. The initial vote finds the room divided eleven to one for “guilty.” One juror must defend his convictions against a barrage of arguments from the others. With dignity and reason he makes himself heard above a sea of anger, prejudice and apathy.
Unfortunately, this play is a bad fit with the fledgling company – literally. There are homes in Bloomfield with great rooms bigger than this postage stamp of a theater.
Granted that claustrophobia is motivating some of the anger in the characters; it should be an illusion, not a reality. Blocking thirteen actors (there’s a bailiff) around a mutha of a big table is a job too big for co-directors Richard Goteri and Craig S. Martin to handle.
Worse, since the audience seating in not tiered, downstage actors block any activity by actors seated upstage. Movement on stage becomes forced and artificial. Whole lines are lost in the rustle generated by so many people in so small a space.
And you know there’s trouble when there’s insufficient room to gracefully stage a curtain call – and your audience thinks it’s funny.
“Twelve Angry Jurors” is a character-driven play. An actor’s most fundamental job is to develop a character we can believe in. Part of that study is to establish in one’s mind the “pecking order,” if you will, the character’s position relative to each other character on stage. “Who likes me? Who is my enemy? Who scares me?”
Rose’s characters emerge as “archetypes,” – The Bully, The Bigot, The Wimp, etc. As difficult a task as it is for a cast this large, it is not sufficient to revert to the stereotypes and call it a day. A bully will browbeat another man differently than he will a woman. Some women will mother a weak-willed man; others will be contemptuous. Without the subtle nuances an actor should bring to the role, what we have are not so much twelve angry jurors as twelve peeved persons.
Detroit Ensemble Theatre describes this year at its new home as its “freshman season.” Like any other freshman, high school or college, it is exploring new territories and learning its limitations. Stumbles are bound to occur, but learning from one’s mistakes is the road to maturity.
“Twelve Angry Jurors” Presented Friday through Sunday by the Detroit Ensemble Theatre, 25213A Gratiot Ave., Roseville, through Nov. 9. Tickets: $12. 586-790-5666.
The Bottom Line: It’s back to the books for this one; with luck, Stanislavski.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.