Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Theater roundup: Riveting 'Angry Men,' half-accomplished 'Cane'

The cast of Twelve Angry Men.

By Hap Erstein

The‭ “‬golden age of television‭” ‬of the‭ ‬1950s produced many classic dramas that went on to further acclaim in other media.‭

Think of‭ ‬Requiem for a Heavyweight,‭ ‬or‭ ‬Marty,‭ ‬or‭ ‬The Miracle Worker.‭ ‬Certainly earning a spot on that list is Reginald Rose’s dramatized civics lesson,‭ ‬Twelve Angry Men,‭ ‬which the Maltz Jupiter Theatre has dusted off and given a vigorous mounting that makes clear the script has lost none of its relevance in the past half a century.

Of course it helps to have the services of two-time Tony Award winner Frank Galati‭ (‬The Grapes of Wrath,‭ ‬Ragtime‭) ‬and his hand-picked male ensemble to breathe life into the script.‭ ‬Not that they try to update the play or give it any contemporary spin.‭ ‬They simply commit themselves to the story of a jury asked to deliberate over a first-degree murder case and bring out the inherent tension and suspense in such an assignment.‭

After instructions by an offstage judge,‭ ‬12‭ ‬white men of various walks of life are locked into a sweltering,‭ ‬claustrophobic anteroom,‭ ‬charged with deciding whether a ghetto teen murdered his own father.‭ ‬Initially,‭ ‬the vote is‭ ‬11-to-1‭ ‬for conviction.‭ ‬The lone holdout,‭ ‬a soft-spoken architect known only as Juror No.‭ ‬8,‭ ‬argues that he has reasonable doubt about the boy’s guilt.

As he calls on his fellow jurors to reconsider the evidence and testimony,‭ ‬tempers flare,‭ ‬prejudices are exposed,‭ ‬and‭ ‬pressure applied as the rest of the jury slowly moves toward his viewpoint.‭ ‬Rose deftly fills us in on the specifics of the case‭ ‬--‭ ‬without overloading us with exposition‭ ‬--‭ ‬as he expertly turns these‭ ‬12‭ ‬strangers into vivid individuals.

As Juror No.‭ ‬8,‭ ‬the role that Henry Fonda played in the‭ ‬1957‭ ‬film,‭ ‬Patrick Clear consciously underplays without ever giving up control of the ongoing debate.‭ ‬Those most adamant for conviction are dealt the showier roles.‭ ‬Douglas Jones impresses as the most overly prejudiced juror and James Clarke is riveting as a father who cannot separate his conflict with his son from that of the victim and his alleged killer.

Big,‭ ‬splashy musicals will probably always be the Maltz Jupiter’s stock in trade,‭ ‬but when it can produce a drama as involving as‭ ‬Twelve Angry Men,‭ ‬they deserve to always be a part of the menu here.

TWELVE ANGRY MEN,‭ ‬Maltz Jupiter Theatre,‭ ‬1001‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Indiantown‭ ‬Road,‭ ‬Jupiter.‭ ‬Through Sunday.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$46-$53.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬575-2223‭ ‬or‭ (‬800‭) ‬445-1666.

‭ * * *

Trenell Mooring and David Nail in Cane.

You have to admire the ambition of a program of commissioned scripts at Florida Stage known as‭ ‬The Florida Cycle.

Over the next several seasons,‭ ‬the West Palm Beach company hopes to premiere a diverse series of scripts set in‭ ‬the Sunshine State.‭ ‬And if they are as well-crafted and theatrical as the first act‭ ‬of‭ ‬Andrew Rosendorf’s new historical melodrama‭ ‬Cane,‭ ‬it will be time and effort well-spent.‭ ‬The problem,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬is that Rosendorf does not have a sufficiently satisfying second act to match his first.

Rosendorf,‭ ‬Florida Stage’s playwright-in-residence,‭ ‬kicks off the program‭ ‬--‭ ‬and the troupe’s first subscription season at the Kravis Center‭ ‬--‭ ‬with an epic tale that spans over‭ ‬80‭ ‬years,‭ ‬contrasting the surfeit of water at the time of the deadly‭ ‬1928‭ ‬hurricane with the dearth of water today.

He succeeds at framing the conservation issue with a compelling flesh-and-blood story,‭ ‬about a farmer-merchant who tries to buy the land of a cash-strapped World War I veteran,‭ ‬optimistically believing the purchase will guarantee his route to wealth.‭ ‬But the situation soon turns violent when the ex-soldier reneges on the deal.

Once we become emotionally invested in these characters,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬they are gone.‭ ‬The second act is set in present day and we meet the descendants of the earlier folks,‭ ‬a lot less interesting bunch of people.‭ ‬The problem is compounded because Rosendorf has not come up with particularly interesting things for them to do.

In fact,‭ ‬the most compelling writing in the second act is an extended monologue that relates what happened to a character’s great-grandmother during that killer‭ ‬1928‭ ’‬cane.‭ ‬But those events are told to us,‭ ‬instead of being actively depicted.

In the first act,‭ ‬director Louis Tyrrell makes good use of his company’s new expansive,‭ ‬high-ceilinged digs,‭ ‬thanks largely to the scenic design by Richard Crowell,‭ ‬a craggy,‭ ‬steeply raked earthen floor that rises at the back to simulate the precarious mud dike of Lake Okeechobee.‭ ‬And the lighting skill of Suzanne M.‭ ‬Jones and her fierce lightning and waterless rain effect are as close as you are likely to come to a hurricane indoors.‭

The production has a solid five-member cast,‭ ‬each of whom plays a pair of characters,‭ ‬one in each act.‭ ‬Gregg Weiner,‭ ‬for instance,‭ ‬shows his versatility as a kindly,‭ ‬but overly ambitious store owner and,‭ ‬later,‭ ‬his great-grandson Junior,‭ ‬a sugar cane magnate eager to change crops and use his land to raise houses.

David Nail‭ (‬seen last season in‭ ‬Sins of the Mother‭) ‬is a worthy adversary as the apprehensive landowner and then a modern-day cop.‭ ‬Keep your eye on newcomer Trenell Mooring,‭ ‬who plays a taciturn pregnant teen in‭ ‬1928‭ ‬as well as her college-educated descendant,‭ ‬almost harnessing that unwieldy second-act monologue.

Rosendorf has a natural way with dialogue,‭ ‬giving his mostly uneducated characters a lyrical way of expressing himself.‭ ‬He seems like a playwright with a future,‭ ‬but with‭ ‬Cane he comes up short in the second act.

CANE,‭ ‬Florida Stage at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse,‭ ‬701‭ ‬Okeechobee Blvd.,‭ ‬West Palm Beach.‭ ‬Through Sunday,‭ ‬Nov.‭ ‬28.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$47-$50.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬585-3433‭ ‬or‭ (‬800‭) ‬514-3837.‭

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