By:  | 

A Great Play, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

[caption id="attachment_1713" align="alignleft" width="540"] Photography by Gavriel Brown[/caption]

12 Angry Men, written by Reginald Rose, is a play that gets to the heart of a democratic system. One of the biggest privileges of the American adult is to be able to be a juror upon selection, and more so, to be able to have this responsibility. These “angry men” exercise this privilege well. They are presented with a case in which a sixteen-year-old boy has been accused of fatally stabbing his father. If the jury finds him guilty, the sentence is death by electric chair. If not guilty, the boy goes free.

The setting of the play is exclusively in the jury room, where twelve men spend a day deciding, by mandatory unanimous vote, the boy’s fate. Personal interest gets in the way.

Many jurors want the expedient route of a guilty verdict so as to go home and watch their ball games or run their garages. Others have personal prejudices against “people like that” from the slums, people who are raised in violent neighborhoods where death is a common reality. Others have family stories, which are eerily reminiscent of this case; one man had a wayward son very similar to the defendant himself.

However, beginning with one voice and ending in echoes from others, the question is raised: Is there room for doubt? As one juror says, “This isn’t an exact science.” Doubt is raised about the guilt of the defendant when doubt is raised about the jurors themselves. One juror gets so angry at this dissenting opinion that he cries out, “I could kill you!” Mustn’t one doubt he literally meant this? One juror explains that the defendant used a certain switchblade that was one of a kind, yet another juror pulls out one just like it. While the jurors try to examine the motives of the kid at stake, it becomes clear that their reasoning is fraught with personal “motives” as well. Ultimately, “Everyone’s a lawyer,” as one juror puts it. Everyone needs to take a side, though they will never know if they were right or not. This play is about an intelligent humility which requires its characters to measure how much doubt is necessary to prevent the court from killing a potentially innocent person.

Juror #1, played by David Stahl, keeps track of the votes, and notes the progression of the jury. Their opinions, so defined at the start, become more varied as the evidence is revisited and personal opinions are shared. Daniel Schreiber, Juror #2, and Binyamin Weinreich, Juror #5, are the two quietest people involved, yet they are not the most stubborn in holding on to their votes, and their opinions change and transform. Aaron Langert, Juror #6, is a thoughtful man who is visibly troubled by the case throughout the play.

Ze’ev Deutsch’s debut performance as Juror #4 is a convincing portrayal of one of the most critical jurors in the case, working nicely as a foil perhaps for Juror #11, played by Dov Adelson, a foreign gentleman who brings a new lens of insight to the judicial system, appreciating the various arguments yet seeing past personal agendas. Doni Mandel, Juror #7, is appropriately typecasted to the role of the lowlife and menacing juror, wanting to sentence the “kid” and get along to his ball game (reminiscent of his role in The Foreigner), while Moshe Rube, Juror #10, is in his typical role as opinionated, radical, and racist juror with personal prejudices motivating his decisions (similar to his character in last year’s 1776).

 The two roles to “take the cake” are certainly those of Tani Isaacs, Juror #3, and David Kabinsky, Juror #8. Isaacs does some of his best acting to date, as he passionately rallies in favor of the death sentence. With raw emotion and fearsome anger, he plays a juror who commands attention for his opinion by like-minded and dissenting people alike. David Kabinsky does a remarkable job as the small voice of question, and the loud voice of reason. He fights to question how any case can be so clear, and how any jury can be so unanimous so quickly. Instead of arguing to defend the accused, he argues to defend the validity of the court system, and the seriousness of ruling that something is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The acting in this production is beyond a reasonable doubt. With a fantastic cast and a steadfast and creative director, Lin Snider, 12 Angry Men is sure to please. Wonderful lighting and a simple yet well-designed set serve to turn the viewer’s attention directly to the actors. In particular, the unique lighting which settles atop a knife later in the play is cleverly done. The sound system is decent, though unfortunately the opening line, which is the judge’s request of the jury to come to a unanimous decision, is a recorded voice; it would have been more gripping for a real actor to speak these lines on stage. Costumes are simple as they should be, showing the average middle-class male jurors of their era.

This is a play about motives and decisions. As Juror #11 argues, everyone has the potential to be a killer, but most people usually do not kill. Everyone can be the lawyer, the executioner, or the defendant himself. Perhaps the hardest thing for a person to be, however, is a person with doubt.