For those of you unfamiliar with the story (as I was; I've never seen the movie, and the play only once about 15 years ago), the entire play takes place in real time inside a jury deliberation room. They are deciding the fate of a young, poor, Latino man who is charged with killing his father. The opening vote is 11 guilty, one not guilty, and therein lies the drama. Over 90 minutes, the men debate the case trying to come to a consensus, and in doing so they discuss issues of race, class, duty, the justice system, and family dynamics. They argue, disagree, challenge, acquiesce, change their minds, and change them back again as they talk and more importantly, listen to each other. The question at hand is not what really happened, but does the evidence presented prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty and deserves to be sentenced to death.
|the cast of Twelve Angry Men (photo by Dan Norman)
The creators of the piece (also including book writer David Simpatico) have been very thoughtful about the racial diversity, which adds another layer to the stories, characters, interactions, and themes of justice. While it may not be historically accurate that a jury was this diverse in the 1950s, that's where theater gives us room to imagine and explore what if. But this isn't just color-blind casting where they blindly put people of different races into historically White characters without thinking about how it affects the story they're telling. This is not a situation where actors of color play White characters, they're playing Black, biracial, Asian, or Latino characters in this time and space. The creators worked with the cast to incorporate their experiences and life history into the piece, so that the characters and their stories feel authentic.
It's worth noting that the author's estate did not allow the creators to change the gender of the characters, which allowed them to delve into issues of masculinity (toxic and otherwise) and the way that men communicate with each other. But never fear, Theater Latte Da's women Elissa Adams, Kelli Foster-Warder, and Denise Prosek are putting together a companion cabaret piece called Twelve Angry Women, which you can see at Crooners July 7-9. Because women are allowed to be angry too (and sing about it!).
|Curtis Bannister as Juror #8 (photo by Dan Norman)
|the men get angry (photo by Dan Norman)
with no walls, just a few doors and shelves hanging in mid-air. The jurors sit in 12 mismatched chairs at a long center table that rotates during some of the songs, allowing the audience different views. But they don't just sit at the table the whole time, director Peter Rothstein has them moving around the stage, with interesting character groupings, natural movement accompanying the songs rather than traditional dancing. They're all dressed in period suits, but with slight variations and specific accessories that give us hints about each character. Big stadium lights hang at the back of the stage, used on occasion for effect, with mostly subtle lighting shifts (and a few lightning strikes) to set the mood. Before the show we hear a ticking clock, creating an ominous feeling as the story begins, and later sounds of thunder fill the theater as the storm roles in. (Choreography by Kelli Foster-Warder, scenic design by Benjamin Olsen, costume design by Matthew LeFebvre, lighting design by Paul Whitaker, sound design by Nicholas Tranby.)
While adapting movies to musicals is in general a disturbing and disappointing trend, that's not the case here. It's clear that the creators had something to say, and that this American classic can still speak to us in new, different, and surprising ways. This adaptation very much reflects and speaks to the current time, while still staying true to the original story. The music is added thoughtfully in a way that enhances the emotions and themes of the story. In short, it's adaptation done right.
You can (and should) see the world premiere musical Twelve Angry Men at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis through July 17. And for more on how this musical came to be, check out #TCTheater artist and musical theater aficionado Max Wojtanowicz's edutainment "Pin Spot" series, which delves deeper into the history and making of the show - June 27 only!