Before you move on to celebrating the 12 days of Christmas with some more festive theatre going, you may want to take the time to behold the sober debate of the twelve angry men who appear in the play of the same name at Palm Beach Dramaworks. In this intricately crafted script by Reginald Rose, the men in question have come together to serve on a jury, and to discuss the fate of a young man who stands accused of murdering his father. At first, it seems, the facts as presented leave little room for debate; but after one juror dissents, tensions quickly begin to mount as some on the jury begin to see his side of things and others hold fast to their original convictions.
Though the work was first presented as a 1954 teleplay before being adapted for the stage and then made into the classic 1957 film, many of its themes are still unfortunately relevant—namely, the dangerously subjective nature of the judgements that go into whether any individual is guilty or innocent, and the ways in which racial and class biases can influence the interpretation of a case. And the fact that the death penalty will be enacted if the defendant is found guilty raises the stakes even further.
Notably, all twelve jurors are white, and the man standing accused is implied to be black, at least in this production and conventionally. However, other versions of the piece have been done that allowed for women to be a part of the deliberations or for the jury to be mixed-race, which seems as if it could have added some interesting subtextual implications to the equation while allowing for more diversity.
Yet if there were ever an argument for putting thirteen white men onstage (since there’s also gotta be a guard), it is the incredible performances of this play’s cast, which amount to a masterclass in acting delivered by a crew of local theatre veterans: Cliff Goulet, Tim Altemyer, Michael Mckeever, William Hayes, Gary Cadwallader, Jim Ballard, Matthew W. Korinko, John Leonard Thompson, Tom Wahl, Dennis Creaghan, Rob Donohoe, David Kwiat, and Bruce Linser.
David Kwiat Juror 11, Rob Donohoe Juror 10, William Hayes Juror 3, Gary Cadwallader Juror 4 and Jim Ballard Juror 5
Though each nails their moments of intensity, Hayes is particularly compelling as Juror #3, whose hateful energy eventually becomes the biggest obstacle to an innocent verdict. Scenic design by Victor A. Becker also incorporated some impressive projections to allude to the world outside the jury room through its windows, though I’m not sure they were entirely necessary when what was going on onstage was already so absorbing.
However, with so many characters of the same general demographic, I found it a bit hard to keep track of the subtleties of each one’s personality, even given the distinct performances of the actors and the marvelous specificity with which each is written. The intermissionless work also gets a bit tedious at times—though there are moments of humor throughout the script, so much more of it consists of fraught debate that it all eventually got a little exhausting, perhaps mirroring the claustrophobia the jurors themselves begin to feel as they struggle to reach a verdict.
Gary Cadwallader Juror 4 and William Hayes Juror 3
Because of this, I’m not sure this play is one I’d rush to see another production of. However, I do think that this is a work I think everyone should see once, given that the unexpected twists and turns the men’s discussion takes offer plenty of suspense to entice a first-time viewer, and given that the work’s contemplation of whether a conviction beyond “reasonable doubt” is ever truly possible is an important one for most people to keep in mind when it comes to the larger-scale failings of the American justice system. And since it’s hard to imagine a line-up of jurors doing this play more justice than Dramaworks’ current cast, there’s plenty of incentive to buy a ticket before the show closes up on December 29th!