It’s a 56-year-old story, set in a time when women didn’t even sit on juries. So, how is it that Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men continues to inspire artists across artistic media—and even in different countries—to revisit it?
Pioneer Theatre Company’s current production certainly doesn’t avoid the specificity of the original 1950s milieu. In a New York City jury room, 12 men are about to decide the fate of an 18-year-old murder defendant facing the death penalty. At the first vote, 11 of them have already concluded that he’s guilty—but skeptical Juror Eight (Alan Campbell) doesn’t feel like he can make that call yet. Over the course of a tense 110 minutes, he proceeds to challenge both the evidence and the assumptions of his fellow jurors.
The material is bound to be familiar to many viewers, either from its film incarnation or the original TV drama on which it was based, but director John Going and his outstanding cast hone in on a dynamic that’s remarkably timely. At its core, it exposes the fragility of the social contract on which democracy is based; a difference of opinion is treated by the belligerent Juror Three (Bob Ari) as a threat to his understanding of the world. And it addresses the way prejudices and preconceptions—like those of the racist Juror Ten (a magnificent Paul Kiernan, pictured front)—influence the “facts” we’re prepared to accept. From naturalistic start to taut, thrilling finish, there’s never a question that the subjects addressed in Twelve Angry Men matter now.