It only takes the jurors of the District Theatre's 12 Angry Men an hour to deliberate and arrive at a verdict in the play's murder trial, but director Tristan Tapscott's production in no way feels rushed or stunted. Instead, Thursday's 60-minute trip through this classic piece of theatre did a fine job of showcasing the excellence of playwright Reginald Rose's script. Plus, purists be damned, Tapscott's decision to cast women in what's traditionally - even titularly - an all-male drama proves not at all problematic, and allows for the inclusion of Patti Flaherty, and her infusion of humorous personality traits, in the role of Juror Four.
Flaherty even proves a pleasing distraction when she's not speaking, fleshing out her character beyond her juror's words. While deliberating with her fellow jurors about whether a young man stabbed and killed his father, the performer speaks with an uppity, prim tone of self-certainty regarding the boy's guilt, even as Ed Villarreal's beautifully sincere, conscientious, responsible Juror Eight stands alone with his single vote of "not guilty" at the outset of the jurors' discussion. But Flaherty matches her vocal characterization with physicalized idiosyncrasies of a neat and orderly variety. Her notebook, pencil, gloves, and kerchief are laid out in a particular arrangement, and repositioned to perfection, repeatedly throughout the performance. (At one point, Flaherty tosses aside a piece of paper that has landed in front of her, and quickly corrects the positioning of her items.) When the group is asked if anyone has a watch with a second hand on it, Flaherty carefully places her hand over her own watch and lowers her arms so that her wrists are out of sight, hoping to avoid being part of the proceedings. And Flaherty's Juror Four also ticks off "guilty" and "not guilty" counts at each instance of voting for a verdict as if she should be the foreman - or simply because she's so thorough and orderly in her manner. Each of Flaherty's actions is performed with utter seriousness, but there's also something amusing about these tics that renders them mildly comical (in a good way).
As Juror Three - the lone individual who sticks to his "guilty" guns to the bitter end, refusing to acknowledge Juror Eight's breakdown of every flawed testimony against the defendant - Patti's real-life husband Pat Flaherty is an angry force to be reckoned with. He successfully creates an imposing hot head with whom I, for one, would not contend, especially when he's backed by Wayne Hess' haughty, bigoted, bullying Juror Ten, with his truly intimidating death stares aimed at those who disagree with him.
Villarreal's character has an easier time convincing the rest of the jurors that the damning testimony they've heard during the trial may not be so damning after all. Linda Ruebling's eastern-European Juror Eleven is quite sympathetic, and the role is shaped by the actress with careful thoughtfulness and inner strength. Bob Manasco's Juror Two couldn't be more delightfully dorky and odd, with his diffident nature punctuated by his bow tie and glasses, while Doug Kutzli's Juror Seven matches Manasco's providing of mild comic relief with his slightly slimy, New York-accented take on the juror who just wants to get the deliberation over with so he can attend the theatre. Sara Armstrong Kutzu's no-nonsense, orderly Juror One, who serves as foreman, is a stark contrast to Deborah Shippy's meek Juror Twelve, with her clear lack of self-assurance. Mitchell Diamond's nervousness as Juror Five has a pitiable sweetness to it, although his outbursts of defensive bravado prove incongruent with his character's shy countenance. And Sally Hamer's objective Juror Six and Steve TouVelle's mature, intelligent, thoroughly likable Juror Nine serve as Juror Eight's greatest allies, offering aid in analyzing the trial testimony. (Aaron J. Lord also makes a few brief but pleasing appearances as an indifferent, gum-chewing guard.)
It could be argued that Tapscott's decision not to update the play's 1950s time period to allow for the appropriate inclusion of women on the jury is a mistake (as would be the inclusion of a modern water cooler on the otherwise period-specific jury-room set, which is layered with alcoves behind floor-to-ceiling wood planks). But in truth, the only reference to the time frame is Juror Seven's mention of seeing the play The Seven Year Itch that evening; otherwise, the time period seems irrelevant, although it does allow for Tapscott to include some stunning period costumes, particularly for the women. Not being a 12 Angry Men purist, I take no issue with the District Theatre's era inaccuracies in its latest production, and applaud the casting of such talented female actors in addition to the impressive males. Even the show's brevity isn't bothersome, as the pacing feels appropriate to this particular jury-room deliberation, with its hour-long presentation offering wholly satisfying entertainment.
12 Angry Men runs at the District Theatre (1611 Second Avenue, Rock Island) through August 10, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)235-1654 or visiting DistrictTheatre.com.