Director: Jack Phoenix and Danny Avila
Starring: Alexandrea Gaistman, Jack Copland, Zerina Francis
A dimly lit room, an hour and a half-long scene and a palpable feeling of anxiety: these are all elements of Theatre Western’s production of Twelve Angry Men. The show thrives on its uniqueness and is able to provide an interactive experience that disregards the classic limitations of theatre.
The show is based on the 1957 film of the same name by Sidney Lumet, and follows 12 jurors (cast gender-neutrally in Theatre Western’s version) who are tasked with determining the guilt or innocence of a man on trial for murder. Their decision will mean the difference between life and death for the accused, and their choice must be unanimous. What follows is one continuous scene without breaks for the actors or the audience as the jurors work through their conflicting views.
The stage is set up in the middle of the theatre with the audience’s seats surrounding it. The central set pieces are a table and 12 chairs, and no consequential changes are made throughout the show. This setting is especially effective in bringing the audience into the action; the tempers are felt up close, and the smell of the cigarette smoke reaches all corners of the space.
Naturally, the high stakes and claustrophobic setting draw out the deepest values and insecurities of the jurors. Their transformations are drawn out subtly and realistically, making profound use of the unique stage. The one true disappointment of the show is that depending on the seat, the viewer may become well-acquainted with the back of an actor’s head.
One of the standout performances is given by Copland as Juror number three, a role that speaks to the privilege and burden of the paternal figure. He wrestles with his own beliefs throughout the show and he does so with the intensity of a cage match. Francis dives into her role as Juror number 4, and provides a convincingly steady, yet powerful voice. Performances such as these make the acting believable and are a testament to the co-directing of Jack Phoenix and Danny Avila.
What’s most surprising about this show is despite the original film being released more than 50 years ago, the content still feels vitally relevant. The accused murderer’s race is repeatedly discussed as a means of proving his guilt, indicating the level of influence race still has on societal perceptions of others. Similar to today’s world, the jurors must work through these issues, and when they’ve reached a decision, attempt to heal their wounds and reach common ground.
Twelve Angry Men is a unique show with strong performances and boundary-pushing direction. Being in the same confined space as the actors provides a transcendent experience that is well worth the price of admission. It’s not traditional, but it is definitely timely.