Eleven jurors are ready to send a teenage boy to the chair for murdering his father. One wants to give the kid a chance.
Regent’s production of “12 Angry Men” sets the stage for a ferocious battle between jurors in this modern-take on the story. Necessarily, the title during the performance was slightly altered. “12 Angry Jurors” makes an allowance for the majority of the actors being women.
In the play, twelve jurors must decide on the fate of a boy from the slums who has been accused of murdering his father with a switchblade to the chest. At first all but Juror Eight (played by Regent’s Stephen Bundy) are against the accused, and he must convince them to have “reasonable doubt” concerning the boy’s guilt. As soon as there is reasonable doubt, the jury can no longer convict the teen as a murderer.
The most famous portrayal of this court drama can be seen in the 1957 award-winning film adaption. In this motion picture, all the jurors are portrayed by exceptional actors of the era, and although only filmed in one location, the movie never lags in suspense about the final verdict.
How does Regent’s play compare to this famous film?
First of all, live performance adds to the intensity of the moment, as jurors complain, shout at, and threaten those who shift their vote to “not guilty.” Regent’s theater students accomplished the appropriate level of irritation found in a stuffy room with no air conditioning. The grumbling, handkerchiefs, and battles between catty women about an open window made the unbearable heat almost tangible to the audience.
In addition, the acting was on point throughout the 90-minute play. The jurors’ arguments were heated and effectively delivered, while their continual movement kept viewers engaged.
The play also added an element of suspense not found in the movie, when Juror Four (Morgan Pettigrew) confidently countered Bundy’s main argument for doubting a witnesses’ reliability. Pacing around the table, she methodically rebuffed his point and made her own case for the accused’s guilt. Jurors who had switched to “not guilty” changed their minds again. The boy’s chances to survive the electric chair became very slim in that moment, adding suspense.
However, despite the impressive work, there are certain elements in the 1957 film that the live-performance could have included to add flavor and suspense. For example, while a New York accent may be decidedly difficult to keep up, this detail in the film’s characters helped set the stage. “How d’ ya like this guy?” lands smoothest with a New York accent.
Because of the nature of filmmaking, the movie portrayed the heat of summer by having the men sweat. Wet marks appear under the arms and along the necklines of most of the jurors, except Four, who keeps his coat on and remains unruffled. While the heat was shown well by Regent’s jurors, the performance left out a key turning point in the drama.
In the film, Juror Five innocently asks Four, “Pardon me, but do you ever sweat?”
“No, I don’t,” Four replies coldly.
Eleven minutes later Four must admit to a key point that casts doubt on the boy’s guilt. A bead of sweat slides down his forehead. He hastily dabs it away with a napkin.
A bead of sweat could not have been seen by audience members in Regent’s Studio Theater, however, a simple pat of a handkerchief would have done as well.
These are obviously minor criticisms. Expecting a college play to achieve the same effect found in this Oscar-nominated movie featuring numerous famous actors is ambitious. As it stands, Regent did an excellent job portraying the true intensity of a jury’s debate, keenly illustrating the point that it is difficult to stand alone, but the courage of doing so can have significant effects.