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Review: Playcrafters' Twelve Angry Jurors

Comedian Norm Crosby once said: “When you go into court you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.”

If you’ve ever served on a jury – and I have three times, the last being a murder trial – you can TOTALLY relate to the microcosm of personalities portrayed in this show. Playcrafters’ current production, “Twelve Angry Jurors,” is a slightly updated version of Reginald Rose’s 1954 TV script, “Twelve Angry Men” that was adapted for stage by Sherman L. Sergel. Brilliantly directed by Mike Schultz, he has chosen to set the action in 1972 and now has a jury of six men and six women. A testament to this classic work is that it has had a film version made in 1957 and a TV remake in 1997. And Schultz has seen them all – multiple times.

The story opens with an offstage voice-over of the judge in a murder trial dismissing the jury to decide the fate of a 19 year-old accused of killing his father. He admonishes the jury with: “One man is dead. The life of another is at stake. I urge you to deliberate honestly and thoughtfully. If there is reasonable doubt – then you must bring me a verdict of ‘not guilty.’” And therein is the pivotal conflict that initially pits eleven “guilty” verdicts against one hold out as expressed by the young, idealistic Juror #8. Most vehement of the eleven is Juror #3, who stubbornly – and at one point violently – maintains the defendant’s guilt even as discussion establishes holes in testimony and evidence and the other jurors slowly begin to waffle. However, the verdict must be unanimous.

Schultz has brought together an absolutely stellar cast for this production, the most impressive of which is neophyte actor, Mark Garden, whose very first foray on stage is in the crucial role of Juror #3. Pitted against high school senior Charles Thomas Buden as Juror #8 who, despite his youth, already has an impressive resumé, the pair create fireworks onstage worthy of a 4th of July extravaganza. This is NOT to dismiss the performances of the rest of the cast. Although there are smaller speaking roles they are no less consequential and the cohesion of this cast is phenomenal.

Another of Schultz’ s dazzling direction is the opening of Act II. He has the cast come onstage and solemnly reverse the stark set which is merely a table, chairs and water cooler. My first impression was that it gave the audience site lines to the actors who mostly had their backs to them during Act I. Later, as I reflected on it further, I saw it as a physical representation of Act II’s “turning the table” in the minds of the jury.

I don’t know if I’m assigning a little too much credit to Schultz and Playcrafters, but the decision to produce this script in this politically contentious era is, indeed, timely. How xenophobic, racial and socioeconomic prejudices influence a jury are brought into harsh focus.

I cannot recommend seeing this amazing production highly enough. It is a triumph for both cast and crew. Twelve Angry Jurors continues Friday and Saturday, November 11 and 12, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 13 at 3:00 p.m. at Playcrafters Barn Theater, 4950 - 35th Avenue in Moline.

I’m Chris Hicks...break a leg.