One of my favorite plays since high school, I’ve never actually seen it performed live until yesterday. A local theatre, The Raven, put on a great production. The performances were all strong, especially the two leads. If I had to pick the best performer of the group (which goes against the ensemble philosophy, I know) I’d have to go with Juror #3, the law and order character if you remember the play, not the “hero” who stands up alone at the beginning of the play. Again, everyone was quite strong, but #3 really delivered. I found his performance didn’t simply rely on the anger inherent in the character and the “law and order” ethos that he held as well. It would have been very easy to simply be an ogre but I felt the climatic scene got to the heart of the character. I was genuinely sympathetic to him as the lights went down. Also in a bit of wonderful casting using an African-American actor for the bigoted juror was just a powerful turn on the situation. When first performed in 1958, the obvious “other” or “them” was African-Americans. In 2010, while we could certainly find someone who holds those vile thoughts about African-Americans, having an actor of color recite the lines added another dimension to the meaning of the play. It made the audience question, who are “they?” who do we look down on now? Who do we want to exclude? By taking it to this next level, it really opened up a key theme of the play for a modern audience. Another interesting choice is the placement of juror #8. At the beginning of the play and for quite a long time afterwards #8 sits at the table with his back to the audience. He is even more anonymous than the other jurors, he is everyman/the audience asking the questions that the rest of the jurors don’t want to consider. Slowly as the drama ratchets up, we begin to see more and more of #8 until finally he comes into his own and is no longer a part of the audience looking in, but a full fledged member of the performance. It really helped to draw me into the play and intermission was a sudden, though necessary break.
A quick not about the Raven itself. I am slightly ashamed by the fact that I have lived by the theatre since it moved to its current location at Granville and Clark in Chicago and this was my first time there. It really is an efficient use of space. It has two stages, a welcome area and a bit of a rarity in Chicago theatre a parking lot. The performance I saw was a benefit show and the staff was courteous to the guests and extremely helpful as well. The entire experience was a fantastic advertisement for the Raven Theatre and I encourage anyone and everyone to see Twelve Angry Men or any production at this great neighborhood theatre.