February 23, 2010

The verdict is in: Raven Theatre murders Twelve Angry Men

Reviving a theatrical classic requires creativity, diligence, and, most importantly, talent. This is the responsibility that the Raven Theatre has decided to take on with its production of Twelve Angry Men. Unfortunately, their revival is frail and lacking in artistic credibility.

The story is classic: A group of jurors are stuck in a hot, cramped room as they debate whether to condemn a young man to death. At first, 11 of the 12 jurors vote yes, but one dissenter holds out. The conversation eventually dissolves into an all-out argument that highlights the lives of each of the jurors present.

There are two vital elements that give life to theater: sincere acting and meticulous timing. Raven’s Men is missing both. The acting is mediocre, the directing dull, and the timing inadequate. The script has enormous potential but is painfully tied down by the poor performances.

Twelve Angry Men is a very character-driven play, but almost none of Raven’s jurors live up to this standard. Eddie Diaz as the street-smart “Italian-American” is way too Chico Marx to be believable. Reginald Vaughn, the irritated and prejudiced member of the jury, seems to think that screaming and rushing through lines adequately conveys anger. Although Kenneth Johnson successfully gives off an air of fairness and tranquil authority as the foreman, he has trouble articulating his lines.

The list goes on: Steve Hersons’s timid, socially awkward character is too predictable and cliché. Dwight Sora as the naïve, modest workingman speaks in a monotone, and his body language is distractingly dull. Lacking any real stage presence, Ron Quade might as well not be there. C.L. Brown has some splendid moments as the articulate hero of the story, but his acting is never consistent. His gestures sometimes seem incongruous with his words, and the pace of his dialogue oscillates between rushed and lethargic. These shortcomings are more egregious given that Quade’s character is the leading thread of the story, and therefore cannot afford to have ups and downs.

There are some exceptions to this generally dismal cast. Leonard Kraft as the well-educated European immigrant is splendid. His pacing, timing, and textual emphasis is adequate. His monologue on morality is by far the most powerful in a sea of monologues on ethics and morality. Likewise, Fernando “Mojo” Albiar’s low-income worker is also something of a saving grace. His dialogue is minor, yet his body and facial expressions are strong enough to automatically attract authority on stage. Dan Loftus as the temperamental, competitive, old-fashioned opposition leader is also talented. He has very good timing and articulation, and his body language is powerful. However, his diction is trapped by the same tone throughout the whole play, making his character seem predictable.

Overall, the acting just seems artificial. As Oscar Wilde once said, “I love acting. It is so much more real than life.” Essentially, the actors seem to be imitating emotion rather than portraying emotion. And of course artificial acting produces inadequate timing. Instead of creating a natural flow of dialogue, each character seems to be waiting for their turn to speak.

The directing is just as amateur. Reginald Rose’s original script gives ample space for each character to be personified intimately and uniquely, but the director fails to explore the liberties of the text. Instead, Raven’s production is a near imitation of the 1957 film adaptation.

The second half of the play is a drastic improvement over the first, but the play still does not stand. Theater necessitates harmony between its constituent parts, and in this version of Twelve Angry Men, there is none. The lighting and set design is good, and the talent of most of the actors shines through in select dialogues, but there is simply no harmony there.