Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
12 Angry Jurors
Also see Wally's review of The Whiteheaded Boy
The concept held. If we could not reach unanimous agreement, we'd put off the decision until we could find unity. At one meeting we wrestled with a decision that couldn't be put off. All of us were of like mind but one. A lively discussion ensued. One by one, we came around to our holdout's point of view and we reached unanimity in a flipped decision. It was quite a lesson in the power of well-conceived reason.
Joann Danella, the director of the Aux Dog's production of 12 Angry Jurors, found herself the lone holdout in a jury, which prompted her interest in the play. She chose a version that was adapted for the stage by Sherman L. Sergel based on the Reginald Rose 1954 television play.
Danella presents a jury that includes seven women and five men. The blend of men and women adds depth to the drama. In casting the play, Danella takes the core conflict between the holdout, Juror #8 (Richard Boehler), and his fiercest opposition, Juror #3 (Michelle Boehler), and spikes it with a gender clash.
She also mixes up race. In the original television play, all jurors are white, and the accused and victim are of some undetermined other race. For the Aux Dog production, Danella has cast an African-American woman and a Hispanic man as part of the jury. This wise-but-subtle casting choice heightens the tension and the stakes of the drama.
These changes alone make the production a worthy revisit to a classic story of race-based perceptions, of clear-headed analysis versus wrongheaded prejudicial assumptions. It's great to see this story under any circumstances, but a new view that combines gender considerations with a deeper look at race takes the classic drama to a higher level.
This is an ensemble play by definition. The jurors are never given names. It's just Juror #1 through Juror #12. They're ushered into a room to either come to a unanimous conclusion of guilty or not guilty, or admit they are a hung jury and let a retrial ensue. They have to decide if the 19-year-old accused has murdered his father. The jurors have listened to two witnesses whose testimony at first seems convincing. The holdout questions whether that testimony is truly convincing, much to the resentment and consternation of his fellow jurors who just want to go home.
There are four roles that are central to the conflict in 12 Angry Jurors. Danella has cast her most intense actors in these roles: The aforementioned Richard Boehler (Juror #8) and Michelle Boehler (Juror #3), and two others, Teresa Kizziah (Juror #4) and Angela Littleton (Juror #7). Richard Boehler and Michelle Boehler (husband/wife? brother/sister?) are both terrific in their at-your-throat conflict. Kizziah and Littleton are also both strong and fiery. I'm not as familiar with Kizziah, who delivers a strong and steady performance, but I've seen Littleton in other productions at the Aux Dog, the Adobe, and the Cell Theatre productions. She's proving to be one of Albuquerque's acting treasures and is always spot on in roles that differ greatly.
The rest of the cast members carry their water well. And while there are clearly different levels of acting skill on the stage, the ups and downs nicely approximate the hodge-podge of characters you would plausibly find on any jury.
The stage is a jury room, so the demands on the crew are not extraordinary, but the crew members did their jobs well. One tiny thing I noticed: The doughnut box on one of the jury tables was never opened. Chekhov once said if you have a rifle above the mantle in act one, someone has to shoot it by act two. In 12 Angry Jurors, somebody's got to eat a doughnut.
Excellent production. Kudos to Danella as well as her cast and crew.
12 Angry Jurors will run at the Aux Dog Theatre on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm through June 26, 2016. General admission is $22. Online reservations are $20. Students, seniors and ATG members get in for $18. Reserve tickets at auxdog.com or by calling 254-7716.