Theater Review: Michael Dice directs 12 Angry Men at Pec Playhouse

September 22, 2010

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Michael Dice does a superb job of casting the 12 jurors who will determine the fate of a teen-ager accused of stabbing his father to death in Pec Playhouse Theatre’s production of 12 Angry Men. Speaking to him following the production, he was most complimentary of the actors and remarked that two of them appeared for auditions “right off the street.” Originally produced as a teleplay for CBS Studio in 1954, it became a movie starring Henry Fonda in 1957 and finally came to Broadway in 2004.

Although set in 1957, the play is completely contemporary in that current trials of those accused of political crimes encounter juries that have only one dissenting vote, much as the plot of 12 Angry Men does. It is this controversy that centers the play. In 1957, those accused of crimes did not have the advantage of a trial whose outcome was determined by their peers. Women and minorities were not represented. Much has changed.

David Stanley is the Bailiff who leads the jurors into the room where a decision must be reached. A first vote quickly determines that 11 find a verdict for guilty; only Juror No. 8, Tom Dotson, finds for the defendant. His performance is that of a consistent, thinking human being who discovers the flaws in the cast. He has every aspect of a fine attorney, and without him, the fate of the young defendant would be death.

Brian Pauley is the Foreman trying with great difficulty to keep the panel interacting in a positive way, but Jamie Button, Juror No. 3, fights him to the bitter end. His emotional outbursts, based on his personal experience and anger with his own son, clearly reflect prejudice. Button’s performance is outstanding. The other actors so well play their characters that we quickly identify each one. Carl Ambruoso, the precise timekeeper; Arnie James, a gentleman of age who sees the flaws in one of the witnesses; James Castree, who, like the defendant, grew up in the ghetto; Kurtis Lawler, completely impatient and wanting only to “get it over with”; Douglas Rappa, sensible to the end; Rick Smith, the quiet listener; Ed Stiltner, who joins Button to lead the truly angry; Reimund Storck, a recent immigrant from Germany who brings with him the experience of living under a totalitarian regime; and Al Turner, absorbing it all. They all play their parts with authenticity.

The audience, with great sophistication, appreciated the drama and every aspect of the play. The set designer, Terry Bouray, whose crew were nearly every member of the company, brings us into hot August of the 1950s. Technically, Pec Playhouse has achieved the expertise of many professional companies. The dramatic climax of the play brought the audience to their feet.

Auditions for Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus will be Sept. 27 and 28, 7-9 p.m. A special event will be held Dec. 11 as a fund-raiser for an area food pantry. For information concerning the current show, call (815) 239-1210. 12 Angry Men is highly recommended. The show runs through Oct. 3.

From the Sept. 22-28, 2010 issue

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