Saturday night, Backstage Utah was invited to review 12 Angry Men, presented by West Jordan Theatre Arts and the Sugar Factory Playhouse, and directed by JC Carter. Normally, I don’t attend community theatre, especially to review a production. It is my personal belief that most of the value in community theatre lies within the personal enrichment of the actors, and their continued growth as actors. There isn’t a ton of fulfillment for the audience. Upon discovering this would be directed by JC Carter, I felt it would be worth a look. Anyone within the theatre community knows of Mr. Carter’s extensive resume, and success with difficult pieces. 12 Angry Men is an incredibly heavy piece for a community production and is one of my favorites. With little trepidation, I attended.
The production was staged at the West Jordan City Hall, a perfect setting for this courtroom drama. For those unfamiliar with the plot, this show is set within the jury deliberation room at the end of an extensive murder trial in the 1960’s. 11 men are convinced that the accused is guilty, and 1 man stands alone in his reasonable doubt. The play rises and falls as the evidence is reexamined, the decided facts are questioned, and each man slowly reveals enough about himself to expose his personal bias. The jurors are not known by name to the audience, simply by number (which, by the way, makes it difficult for a reviewer to isolate a performance…so forgiveness if I have your numbers wrong, please).
Technically, the production was wonderful. It is easy for a production with one set to become stale. Mr. Carter did a phenomenal job with both the color palette and the blocking to keep the production interesting to watch. The actors used the full space they were given, and moved with purpose. Being an intimate setting, there were no microphones to fumble with, which eliminates roughly 50% of the technical hassles with many productions.
The struggle for the actors and directors involved in this production is that it doesn’t follow the standard formula for a play. Normally you have exposition, rise, climax and resolution. This play, being 75 minutes straight through, with no intermission and with very heavy content, is that the show rises and falls emotionally in many places. There are many expositions, many climaxes. Some performers went along for the ride, while others did not. Juror # 4 (Jim Schroeder) seemed stiff, and fumbled his delivery in a few places. His character felt the same at the beginning as at the end, there didn’t seem to be much character development. Juror #11 (John Hinckley) was fantastic; however, his character has a German accent, which muddled his performance-as if he was too busy concentrating on his pronunciation rather than his character. Juror #10 (Allan Groves) is one of our veteran actors, and is known locally by many. His character had many moments to shine, and when it was his turn – he used those moments to the full extent. However, when it wasn’t his scene, the actor pulled focus away from the others. Juror #2 (Nick Jarvis) and Juror #5 (Bud Perry) were sorely underused. I would love to have seen more of them. Juror #7 (Robert A. Easton) provided much needed brevity, and fluidity to the production.
The standout performances belonged to Juror #8 (Anthony Lovato) and Juror #3 (Criss Rosenlof). Juror #8 is the last man standing, the only man who has reasonable doubt and shoulders the responsibility of educating the rest of the men. Mr. Lovato carries that responsibility with pride, and it shows in his performance. He found all the moments within the script where the character subtly grows and shares knowledge with others. I genuinely felt Mr. Lovato grow as an actor during this production. Mr. Rosenlof has similar moments within the script. His character has the most complete and full emotional journey in the production, and Mr. Rosenlof journeys with the character from rage to defeat, from indignation to sorrow. I very much enjoyed taking the journey with him.
12 Angry Men is a classic. Simply stated. In the hands of a director who understands the pertinent themes and relevance in today’s social setting it was extremely well executed. I would encourage the West Jordan Arts Council to have the courage to produce more drama, and take a few more risks. They have certainly paid off in this case.
12 Angry Men runs March 16th-26th on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays. Tickets are $8 for Adults and $5 for Students and Seniors.