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REVIEW: Twelve Angry Men - The Laguna Playhouse, Laguna Beach

"... Life Was In Their Hands – But Death Was On Their Minds."

“Twelve Angry Men” by Reginald Rose is at The Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach through Sunday, the 22nd. Two riveting matinee performances remain - still available for Sunday: One at 1pm and the final show at 5:30pm.

The durable jury-room drama, receiving a gripping revival from The Laguna Playhouse, lays out a smorgasbord of salacious male character types in a courtroom scene, which is set sometime in the 1950s. Classic specimens all, there is the timid bank clerk, the wisecracking sports nut, the shrewd stockbroker, the polite immigrant, the blustering bigot. There's even a shallow ad executive who looks like he should be pitching slogans at Mad Men's Sterling Cooper Agency.

The case centers on a 16-year-old boy from a rough inner-city neighborhood who is accused of murdering his father. As the play begins, we hear the judge remind the jurors that if they bring in a guilty verdict, a death sentence is mandatory. It is their duty to separate fact from fancy, he says, adding: “One man is dead. The life of another is at stake.”

But of course, Rose's play – originally a 1954 television drama, then in 1957 an Oscar-nominated film starring Henry Fonda – is mostly about seeing beyond the stereotypes. The only holdout preventing a guilty verdict is calm, thoughtful Juror No. 8, who is reluctant to send an adolescent kid to the electric chair without talking a little first. And as he airs his reasonable doubts, poking holes in the seemingly air-tight evidence as effectively as if he were using the murder weapon (a switchblade knife), he forces his fellow jurors to reconsider and confront the prejudices that have influenced their decision.

Each of the twelve jurors delivers an unforgettable performance that has more substance than I could possibly relate here. Their experience beyond measure, I can only share the vast amount of stage presence you could experience by attending the final showings tomorrow. The only other player in the group, other than the jurors, is the court guard who also has several appearances throughout the fast-paced ninety minutes.

The cast features (in numerical order): *Matthew Henerson as Juror 1 - Ah Wilderness! (A Noise Within), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Mark Taper Forum), My Fair Lady (Musical Theatre West), The Birthday Party (New Fortune Theatre Co.). Film/TV: The Fosters, Modern Family, Hung, The Bernie Mac Show, Jungle Book.

*Mueen Jahan as Juror 2 - Broadway: Bombay Dreams; Regional: Enter Laughing, Comedy of Errors, Asylum 2100 (La Ovation Award Nomination: Best Actor), Into the Woods (3D Theatricals). Film/TV: Conan, Fresh Off The Boat, Law and Order, Prime Suspect, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Major Crimes.

*Richard Burgi as Juror 3 – TV: Another World, As The World Turns, One Life to Live, Days of Our Lives, Det. Jim Ellison on The Sentinel, Judging Amy, Point Pleasant, Body of Proof, Karl Mayer on Desperate Housewives. Film: Cellular, Fun With Dick and Jane, In Her Shoes, Friday The 13th. Active in many charitable organizations, including The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

*Rick Cosnett as Juror 4 – Originally from Zimbabwe, studied acting in Australia. (The Lion in Winter, What’s Wrong with Angry, Take Me Out (Film/TV: The Flash, Quantico, The Vampire Diaries).

*Dennis Renard as Juror 5 – A 2017 UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television graduate. (Othello, Proof, Generation: Burn (Chicago’s Goodman Theatre), Mississippi Requiem (scheduled for future).

*Tony Sancho as Juror 6 – Hephaistos, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. Performed with Steppenwolf, The Goodman Theater, Drury Lane, Victory Gardens; Film/TV: recurring on FX Snowfall, Chicago PD, NCIS, season 4 on HULU’s East Los High, FOX’s Bones, ABC’s The Forgotten, The BabyMakers, The Blackbird, and the award winning film, On the Downlow.

*John Massey as Juror 7 – The Odd Couple, National Tour of Happy Days (Howard Cunningham), Regional Tour of The Producers (Max), Mary Poppins (George Banks), The Full Monty, Guys & Dolls (Nicely), The Wizard of Oz (Lion), Forum, Fiddler on the Roof (Tevye); Cruise Ships: Disney’s Believe (Genie), Villains Tonight, Legally Blonde. An accomplished pianist & stage/music director.

*Seamus Dever as Juror 8 – Best known as TV’s Detective Kevin Ryan on 8 seasons of Castle. Also, General Hospital, Army Wives. With an MFA from Carnegie-Mellon, Seamus plays the role of villain in the video game Far Cry 5. He is one half of the comedy team Shay-Jean. Stage includes, A Clockwork Orange (Ovation nominee, LADCC, Backstage Awards), iWitness, Clutter, King Lear, Pera Palas.

*Andrew Barnicle as Juror 9 – Artistic Director, Laguna Playhouse from 1991-2010. Director, King of the Road, the Roger Miller Story. Has acted in many Off Broadway and Regional theatrical productions, including Tomfoolery, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Great Nome Gold Rush, Faded Glory, Fallen Angels.

*John Colella as Juror 10 – Stage credits include, Sideways, Cyrano de Bergerac, Revolver, Niagara Falls, It’s Just Sex; Film/TV: Silicon Valley (recurring), Scorpion, Hawaii Five-O, Speechless, The Soul Man, Hot In Cleveland, Criminal Minds, Hotel Noir, Girl Walks Into a Bar, The Chicago 8.

*David Nevell as Juror 11 – (David also is the Judge Voice-Over); Stage credits include The Odd Couple, Peter and the Starcatcher, Arms and the Man, A Walk in the Woods, God of Carnage, Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet, Comedy of Errors, Crazy for You, My Fair Lady; Regional: The Crucible, Henry VIII, The Scene. Coming up: Shakespeare In Love at South Coast Rep in February.

*Erik Odom as Juror 12 – Stage credits include the Nibroc Trilogy: Gulf View Drive, See Rock City (Ovation Nominee), Last Train to Nibroc (Ovation Nominee); Pig Farm (U.K. Premiere), Sons of the Prophet, A Bright New Boise (Best Supporting Male Actor – LA Weekly). Film/TV: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, Grimm. Upcoming film, Luke and Jo.

*Daniel Berlin as The Guard – Most recently seen in Hairspray at Laguna Playhouse; Regional: Sideshow, The Man of La Mancha, Cradle Will Rock, Urinetown, Darling (NYC Premiere). Additional stage: Assassins, Forum, Chicago, Sunday in the Park with George, Violet, Bonnie and Clyde, Ragtime.

Directed by Michael Matthews with casting by Michael Donovan, the director, along with a proven pool of talent, has created stunning success in this decades-old classic, infusing a sense of immediacy, fair-play and justice in bringing a soundly written play to a satisfying conclusion. The Laguna Playhouse is located at 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach. Tickets:

Chris Daniels Arts Reviewer


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