Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men” tackles some very tough issues. It focuses, first and foremost, on people—their beliefs, their prejudices, and the multitude of ways in which they choose to live their lives, as well as on the choices society makes for them to an extent. In addition to being a commentary on human nature, the play examines America’s judicial system and the state of the country as a whole. This is quite a load for any cast to carry, let alone a cast made up of thirteen adolescents. Thanks to amazing direction by Melissa Lozoff and a young cast that’s talented beyond its years, Studio A’s production drives all of the play’s major issues to heart with style and finesse.
From the opening scene throughout the rest of the play, Lozoff creates a living, breathing set. Twelve jurors, stuck in a sweltering (a broken air conditioner is to blame) deliberation room, struggle to render a verdict in a murder trial. The characters’ discomfort, both with the temperature and with the decision with which they have been faced, is made evident by the fact that the characters constantly fan themselves, get up for drinks of water, and move about restlessly. Imagine a simple set littered with coffee cups, rustling newspapers, nail polish, notepads, briefcases, and other effectively used characterization devices. Clever costume choices also play a role in the show’s brilliance by effectively turning the teens into well-worn adults.
While each member of the cast shines in his or her own right, there are definitely some standouts. Juror 1—the foreman of the group—is soft-spoken and sweet with a southern twang, and Emma Gilmore-Cronin’s no-nonsense, older-than-her-years portrayal is spot-on. Then there’s Alice Monroe as Juror 4, an even more no-nonsense business type who is all practicality and no heart. Monroe is every bit as severe as the role calls for, making it difficult to believe she is only a freshman in high school. Skylar Narotsky’s Juror 5 impresses as well, painting a perfect picture of a now-successful businessman with a checkered childhood. One also can’t forget Coleman Churchill’s soberingly angry portrayal of Juror 3, Celia Roskin’s sassy portrayal of the not-so-bright-but-definitely-ignorant Juror 10, or Meghan Everly’s intensely emotional rendition of Juror 11. Even actors who aren’t given quite as much to do, including Anna Claire Mauney’s thoughtfully quiet Juror 2, Emily Langlan’s pragmatic yet wishy-washy Juror 12, and Charles Monroe’s silently intense Juror 9, make the most of their few lines. The show also features Daniel Roth as near-silent juror 6, Rachel Freedman as definitely-not-silent Juror 7, and Ana Radulescu as The Guard. The standout, however, is certainly Raven Angeline Whisnant’s Juror 8. Whisnant stepped in as a self-proclaimed “last minute replacement,” but it certainly doesn’t show. Demonstrating considerable stage presence and a knack for even the most emotionally precarious of scenes, Whisnant’s is a name to remember.
The production is tense throughout, in a delicious kind of way, and keeps the audience close at all times. Audience members go through all of the agonizingly difficult decisions—or rather decision making processes—that the characters do, making this a play that asks tough questions and that should provoke fascinating after-show discussions.