Thursday, November 4, 2010

Theater feature: '12 Angry Men' a tribute to democracy, director says

David Howard,‭ ‬Patrick Clear and David Breibarth in Twelve Angry Men.

By Hap Erstein

As two-time Tony Award winner Frank Galati‭ (‬The Grapes of Wrath,‭ ‬Ragtime‭) ‬keeps in mind,‭ “‬angry‭” ‬is the‭ ‬1954‭ ‬Reginald Rose jury deliberation play’s middle name.

Twelve Angry Men,‭ ‬which opens this‭ ‬evening at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre,‭ ‬is more than half a century old,‭ ‬but it is also extremely timely.‭

“Now everyone seems to feel that this is a climate of anger.‭ ‬That the entire country is angry,‭ ‬that the voters are angry.‭ ‬That parents are angry,‭ ‬school boards are angry,‭ ‬drivers are angry,‭ ‬shoppers are angry,‭ ‬everyone seems to be angry,‭” ‬says mild-mannered Galati,‭ ‬who is directing this production.

‭“‬Every one of the‭ ‬12‭ ‬jurors has a hot button that gets pushed,‭ ‬each one of them in one way or another kind of blows up,‭ ‬loses their cool.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬for whatever it’s worth,‭ ‬there seems to be something in the weather that connects to the rage that is apparently percolating underneath the dialogue in this play.‭”

As a reflection of the times when the play was first produced,‭ ‬the jurors in‭ ‬Twelve‭ ‬Angry Men are all white males.‭ ‬Galati wondered whether that would be an impediment for the audience and contemplated‭ ‬--‭ ‬briefly‭ ‬--‭ ‬moving the production to a more contemporary time.‭

“I think when you confront the challenge of interpreting the play,‭ ‬naturally you think,‭ ‘‬Should it be a more diverse cast‭? ‬Is there a way of making the issue of racism or bigotry or class-ism,‭ ‬all of those strains of hostility that are operating in the play,‭ ‬to somehow make them more relevant‭?’ ‬But in looking at the play carefully,‭ ‬I think you come to realize that if you keep it very specifically in its historical moment,‭ ‬it actually has more universal resonance.‭”

Keeping it in the past can be an asset‭? “‬Yes,‭ ‬I think it is,‭” ‬notes Galati (pictured at right).‭ “‬Because I think you find yourself saying,‭ ‘‬Oh,‭ ‬my‭ ‬God,‭ ‬things have not changed.‭’ ‬More than half a century later,‭ ‬we are still prejudiced.‭”

The play centers on the jury’s deliberations over a murder trial,‭ ‬a boy accused of killing his own father.‭ ‬But the audience knows none of the details of the case when the story begins.‭ “‬One of the interesting things is the way exposition is delivered to the audience.‭ ‬The audience is not at the trial,‭ ‬so they have to find out the case from the discourse of the jurors,‭” ‬says Galati.‭ “‬It’s really pretty impressive,‭ ‬there’s a kind of artfulness that’s so skillfully in place that you don’t notice it.‭”

The dialogue seems to be hyper-realistic,‭ ‬but if you listen to it carefully,‭ ‬it has a musical quality.‭ “‬I think it’s kind of like a great jazz ensemble,‭” ‬Galati offers.‭ ‬Each of the jurors is,‭ ‬in effect,‭ “‬a different instrument.‭ ‬One of the exciting aspects of working on it is to try to find the way in which in a great jazz band,‭ ‬let‭’‬s say,‭ ‬you’re creating harmony,‭ ‬but the individual voices are arguing.‭ ‬There’s dissonance,‭ ‬there’s discord and harmony at the same time.‭”

And while this seems to be a tense drama,‭ ‬even melodrama at times,‭ ‬Galati points out how much comedy is in‭ ‬Twelve Angry Men.‭

“Nobody dies,‭ ‬there’s no tragic conclusion and,‭ ‬in a certain way,‭ ‬the play celebrates the profound contract,‭ ‬the agreement,‭ ‬that is democracy,‭” ‬says Galati.‭ “‬So although there are guys in the play who suffer and who conceal their hurt and their pain,‭ ‬there is a kind of vitality in the characters,‭ ‬a kind of energy of living and a commitment to their responsibility as citizens.

‭“‬Some of the quirks of the characters,‭ ‬the tics,‭ ‬are funny.‭ ‬I mean,‭ ‬one guy is always thinking about when they’re going to eat.‭ ‬And one guy wants to get to the ballgame and all of his metaphors are from the ballpark.‭”

Ultimately,‭ ‬the play is a tribute to‭ ‬our precarious justice system.

‭“‬I don’t know,‭ ‬maybe the justice system isn’t working anymore,‭ ‬but I’d be very presumptuous to say so,‭ ‬I think,‭” ‬says Galati.‭ “‬Part of what’s skillful about the representation of a fictional jury and a fictional trial is that it has the kind of messiness and the uncertainty that I think really rings true.‭”

12‭ ‬ANGRY MEN,‭ ‬Maltz Jupiter Theatre,‭ ‬1001‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Indiantown Road,‭ ‬Jupiter.‭ ‬Thursday,‭ ‬Nov.‭ ‬4,‭ ‬through Sunday,‭ ‬Nov.‭ ‬14.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$46-$53.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬575-2223‭ ‬or‭ (‬800‭) ‬445-1666.

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