IF YOU GO
What: Stage version of the 1957 film about 12 jurors deciding guilt or innocence in a murder case
When: 8 p.m. Wed. - Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun. through Jan. 29
Where: 1055 N. Collier Blvd. Marco Island
Cost: $25 & $23
Information: Call 642-7270 or themarcoplayers.com
Something Else: The theater is located in the Marco Town Center Mall directly across from the Crazy Flamingo restaurant.
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The Marco Players have a hit on their hands.
You could say that a show that features a dozen people sitting around a table arguing is not the stuff hits are made of. You might even say you could see the same thing when your family gathers for the holidays. But with a combination of a compelling story, spot-on casting, and bravaura acting by local thespians, “Twelve Angry Jurors” is a riveting drama.
They’re not “twelve angry men” only because three of them are women. Clearly, they were angry, and 11 out of 12 were ready to convict the unnamed youth, one of “them,” unspecified others of different ethnic or socio/economic origins, call it a day and go home.
The day in question takes place in New York City in July of 1958, made clear by the calendar on the wall, plus the preponderance of suspenders and the statement by Juror #7, played with smarmy insouciance by Lou Wolfenson, that he has tickets for West Side Story, and must be the last one who hasn’t seen it. Like the unseen murder suspect, the jurors are never identified by name.
In an elegant and brain-twisting piece of casting, Juror #8, the role made famous by Henry Fonda in the screen version, “Twelve Angry Men,” is played by Don Manley, who is African-American, throwing an additional wrinkle into the show. Casting is one of the show’s numerous strengths, with each actor seeming to become his or her character, so the audience watches not a group of thespians, but the characters interacting as if for real.
While all but Manley are initially ready to throw the suspect under the bus, or the “El” train, over the course of the play, he uses logic, strategy and emotion to introduce doubt – reasonable doubt – into the wall of their certitude, and slowly wins over one after another to his point of view. In the process, we find out more about the characters’ underlying prejudices and baggage than they would be comfortable disclosing.
In addition to Manley, whose unflappable performance anchors the play, another standout is Jim Corsica as Juror #3, whose barely suppressed rage bubbles to the surface as the jurors deliberate. As the first act closes, he is provoked to a fury by Manley, and yells out “I’ll kill him” – neatly making his antagonist’s point that we don’t always mean what we say.
Switchblade knives, bifocals, and the walking speed and need for attention of a lonely old man have their part, and the play never lags as it draws to its conclusion. Juror #9 was played on Wednesday, which was opening night, by Charles Kolmann, who is also the play’s director and is sharing the onstage role.
While the script, and its setting, are from many decades ago, “Twelve Angry Jurors” evokes the past without ever seeming dated. Over the course of a rather long run, which extends till January 29, look for the cast to only tighten their interactions, and show over and over how a straight play can grip an audience’s attention.