Some of us during our lives will be called upon to perform the role of juror, a solemn and important public duty. 12 Angry Men depicts the importance of this public duty while reminding us of the ease with which humans fall into error. We then have a stark contrast between the coldness of the judiciary system, an abstract body which must draw the line, and the often hot tempers of the people executing the system. Theatre Western’s production provided an intriguing look into the private lives of those who must perform their public service. A strong technical performance with costumes, lighting, and props all support the ambiance of the era bundled with some breathtaking moments of acting from Juror #3 (Jack Copland) and a fairly solid delivery in a difficult role of juror #8 (Alex Gaistman) made this presentation a worthy dramatic experience.
We are introduced, by way of piercing red light, to the situation at hand: a young man is on trial for murdering his father, the defense and prosecution have made their cases, and deliberations begin deciding on a verdict. The decision must be unanimous, for a guilty conviction will result in the death penalty. The portentous crimson light serves to warn of us of the danger and seriousness of what is at stake, not to mention the metaphorical “heat” this case will bring, set in a literal heatwave.
As the actors pour in and circle the set – a simple black desk with white chairs and ample ashtrays - we see them in the spotlight. The desk is located at the center of the stage surrounded by the audience, which is the best blocking given a realistic portrayal of a jury room. It would not make sense to have everyone facing the audience, for the characters could not interact naturally. Unfortunately for this choice, certain actors show mostly the back of their heads to the audience. This was rather disappointing since Juror #3 (Jack Copland) was a star who shined brightly and quite angrily. The disappointment was curbed however when Copland, during his real meaty scene at the end, was up and going around the desk giving the entire audience a taste of his angry mug (I mean that as a compliment, good sir).
The ambiance of the era was also bolstered by the lighting and smoking of cigarettes. Not only did the smoke add to the semblance of a cloudy or unclear matter, but when lit at the right time, it really showed the temperaments of the jurors. A careful manipulation of the smoke here, a shaking hand which seeks relief there, and the tension became palpable through the clouds of smoke. An easy given, but the costumes were spot on in convincing the audience we have been transported beyond the limits of the Mustang Lounge. Each actor contributed to the thick lacquer of the 50’s with their small gestures, accents, mannerisms and overall demeanors.
Although there were a few stumbles, a forgotten line and a silly gesture which served not as comic relief but breaking the all-too-important tension which carries this play, the performance was both enjoyable and respectable. The climactic scene of Juror #3 made the play a worthwhile performance and exceeds any expectations one might have of students taking on these roles in addition to the academic burdens they already have. The staging, props, and costumes and details overall earned more than the passing grade. I would certainly see any student production by Western again if we are to expect at least this kind of quality. Bravo Theatre Western, and may you now sleep with an easy conscience.