’12 Angry Men’ at the Pasadena Playhouse — A Full Review

(L-R) Gregory North, Adam J. Smith, Bradford Tatum, Robert Picardo, Jason George. Photo by Jim Cox.
(L-R) Gregory North, Adam J. Smith, Bradford Tatum, Robert Picardo, Jason George. Photo by Jim Cox.

For those unfamiliar with the film and television production of ’12 Angry Men,’ the legendary plot all takes place in the jury room, as each juror deliberates the fate of a young man accused of murder. While 11 of the jurors enter the room convinced of his guilt, one is not. The lone juror slowly persuades the pool to pick apart the evidence piece-by-piece, and what follows is fascinating.

Director Sheldon Epps stayed true to the original production, except for casting six black actors on the jury, including lead actor Jason George, who is known mostly for his television work (see ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Mistresses’). George’s approach to the role was less subtle and more determined than his predecessors, almost bordering on smug. It’s a near impossible task to portray subtlety on stage, especially when the lead is fighting for something with consistent conviction. I would have preferred a more understated performance, but he certainly had a steep hill to climb. As for Gregory North, he was nothing short of brilliant. He’s the antagonist to George’s character, and his unwavering insistence of the defendant’s guilt is simultaneously dogmatic and effortless.

There’s a few things of note in this production. First, it was a bold choice for Sheldon Epps to cast six black jurors, most notably Jason George as the lead. Though I applaud the monumental idea, it warrants some changes to the play that he didn’t make. For example, many of the jurors are unequivocally convinced of the young man’s guilt because of his race. Their racist stereotypes are at times boisterously expressed, a choice that seems unbelievable when surrounded by 6 other minorities. Even racists are rarely that bold about their bigotry, especially in this type of setting. If it were me, I would have kept the lines, but had one character whisper it to another, rather than yelling it in front of the others. The other option is to have the character look directly at one of the minorities when saying lines such as, “You know how those people are.” Without that change, the dialogue seems odd.

The other issue is the stage blocking and pacing. There needs to be pauses in the dialogue to build the necessary tension for which this story is known. Without that, some of the biggest reveals in the play are blurred, and the epic reaction from the audience is lost.

Despite some minor failings, this play is worth seeing. It’s a classic story that is also unfortunately timeless. The same racist ideas and sad jury failings are just as prevalent today as they were many years ago, and the story is engaging throughout.

The play runs now through December 1st. Get your tickets HERE.