Michael Hernandez, Mattie Gelaude, Cole McFarren, Charles Thomas Budan, Jackie Skiles, Mark Garden, Kendall Burnett, Jessica White, Shyan DeVoss, Kitty Israel, Chris White, and Jane L. Watson in 12 Angry Jurors (photo by Jesse Mohr)

The story is seemingly simple: Twelve jurors gather in a room and discuss an open-and-shut murder case. One juror, however, votes “not guilty,” placing reasonable doubt in the minds of others as emotions run high. But while the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Saturday performance of 12 Angry Jurors – Sherman L. Sergel's stage adaptation of Reginald Rose's classic drama 12 Angry Men – was simple in style, it was also polished, professional, and engaging.

Most of the action took place on the main thrust area, with only two tables and 12 mismatched chairs under floating fluorescents (an effect created by Alexander Richardson). Bradley Jensen’s costumes were spectacular, each juror sporting an array of colors, patterns, and textures in a 1970s style. The designs worked well together and almost created an unsettling sense of liminality in this small jury room, with the audience observing like flies on a wall. The Act II opener, meanwhile, is a surprise, and speaks to the show's great sense of theatricality. Though simply staged, it boasted some of the most clean-cut theatre I've recently seen in the area.

At the beginning, an overly enthusiastic courtroom guard sets the scene, and Noah Stivers’ fun portrayal was a nice contrast to the more grounded characters that eventually fill the intimate playing area. As the jurors filter in, there's some natural small talk and silence before the real drama begins – a superb detail in Reader employee Mike Schulz’s directing style.

Cole McFarren, Mark Garden, and Michael Hernandez in 12 Angry Jurors (photo by Jesse Mohr)

Okay, so bear with me: There are 12 (unnamed) jurors to talk about, which means there are 12 actors to talk about – and no, they aren’t all simply angry. I promise their portrayals are more interesting than the title's single emotion suggests.

Jane L. Watson, as forewoman Juror One, gives a to-the-point, all-business performance. She also employs a really amusing Brooklyn accent, and Watson's interactions with the others were wonderful. As Juror Two, Shyan DeVoss provides a nice comedic layer – although with multiple characters adding humor, this play is more comedic than you’d think. DeVoss enacts a nervous, “teacher’s pet” type, and has a funny running bit when serving as timekeeper for various jury-room scenarios. Juror Three is perhaps the angriest of the dozen, and Mark Garden’s portrayal – his intensity of emotion, control of character, instincts, et cetera – is so impressive. What's perhaps more impressive is that this is Garden’s first time on-stage ever.

Jackie Skiles plays Juror Four, and in an incredible scene near the end, she tells another character off. The layered message in that moment provides one of the show's memorable takeaways: While you don’t have to agree with others, you can at least be respectful. Cole McFarren's Juror Five is a quieter participant, yet played very thoughtfully; McFarren's senses of timing and communication stand out. We find out that Juror Five grew up in a lower-income socioeconomic environment, and when this is used against him by Juror Three, McFarren's and Garden’s stage chemistry is great. Like Juror Five, Michael Hernandez's Juror Six also doesn't talk much, but this gives us more time to watch the actor's unspoken reactions, which he delivers well.

(clockwise from lower left) Shyan DeVoss, Mark Garden, Jackie Skiles, Cole McFarren, Michael Hernandez, Mattie Gelaude, Charles Thomas Budan, Kendall Burnett, Jessica White, and Kitty Israel in 12 Angry Jurors (photo by Jesse Mohr)

Juror Seven is someone you can tell doesn't want to be there, and Mattie Gelaude's performance is especially enjoyable around wildly different personalities. She chomps gum, scoffs at comments, and takes entertainment in reenacting the murder. The first to say “not guilty,” Juror Eight is our protagonist, and while his portrayer is the ensemble's youngest actor, Charles Thomas Budan – an 18-year-old senior at Pleasant Valley High School – plays him swiftly, and with so much honesty and realness. With Budan interacting well and creating a shy-to-commanding character arc, his genius casting adds layers of generational conflict in many unique ways. As portrayed by Kendall Burnett, Juror Nine is one of 12 Angry Jurors' most down-to-earth characters. At the show's climax, he makes a small, memorable unspoken gesture toward Juror Eight as the others are quickly leaving, and it's a touching moment.

A 1970s version of what people today call a “Karen,” Juror Ten is an entitled white woman showing her privilege in socially unacceptable ways, and Jessica White’s facial expressions and “I’m so over it” attitude were quite entertaining (and her costume was one of my favorites of the bunch). White's monologue near the end packs an impactful punch, and is among many examples of why this play is still relevant. Juror Eleven is meek, honest, and has a thick European accent, and while she didn't talk much, Kitty Israel was someone else I was drawn to for her unspoken performance. Israel clearly knows that an actor needs to always be listening, and always be reacting. And Juror Twelve (the last juror … we made it!) works in advertising, which he mentions at least a couple of times. But while the character's “I hate jury duty” attitude is echoed by others, Chris White still makes him interesting to watch, because he creates a figure who's real and honest.

All of these people from all walks of life come into this shared space with different attitudes, and different thoughts on the case. They will likely only see each other this one time. Although most of them will leave unaffected, some will leave their mark. And while its script was good in itself, Playcrafters' 12 Angry Jurors was so strong, well-cast, and intricately acted that it felt like a professional production. I am so lucky to have seen this show, and you should see it, too.


12 Angry Jurors runs at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre (4950 35th Avenue, Moline IL) through November 13, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)762-0330 and visiting Playcrafters.com.

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