Twelve Angry Men

With strong direction and a fine cast, City Theatre's revival of the jury-room drama of the 1950s feels very contemporary

Beyond a reasonable doubt: Rick Felkins' Juror 3 makes the case for guilt
Beyond a reasonable doubt: Rick Felkins' Juror 3 makes the case for guilt (Courtesy of City Theatre)

Twelve Angry Men

City Theatre, 3823-D Airport Blvd., 512/524-2870
Through June 9
Running time: 2 hr., 10 min.

As I walked into City Theatre to see Reginald Rose's Fifties jury-room drama Twelve Angry Men, I wondered how the hell Director Karen Sneed found a baker's dozen of middle-aged-to-elderly male actors for the show. If it were called Twelve Angry Ingénues, she'd have her pick of talented performers. But men? I was skeptical. Two hours later, I left amazed that Sneed not only brought 13 actors out of the woodwork, but her cast is also pretty damned good.

With a strong ensemble and Sneed's excellent direction, Twelve Angry Men was the best City Theatre Company production I've ever seen. It would have been easy for the cast to allow their anonymous characters – called Jurors 1–12 and the Guard – to blend together. But the actors expertly articulate the distinct personalities that Rose created; each character is memorable, and there's not a moment of upstaging throughout. The cast's chemistry and attentiveness create many powerful moments of suspenseful silence and explosive fury as Juror 8 slowly convinces the others of a reasonable doubt that the accused 16-year-old committed murder.

The skilled Jim Lindsay establishes from the play's opening moments that his Juror 8 will be the audience's hero, the one who votes "not guilty" at the outset, arguing, "It's not easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die." At the opposite end of the table, Rick Felkins delivers a superb performance as Juror 3; his final, heartbreaking concession made me cry. Other notable performances (though there's not a weak link at the table) include John Meadows as the steadfast, senior citizen Juror 9; Brian Miller with perfect comic timing as geeky Juror 2; Freddy Carnes as the jabbering, prejudiced Juror 10; and Johnny Stewart, looking very Don Draperly as adman Juror 12. Sneed's careful staging fits the large cast comfortably onstage, and very little in the production feels forced – even the convention of having actors rise from the long jury table as they speak seems natural.

The production mostly looks straight out of the Fifties. Andy Berkovsky's utilitarian set, though clearly created on a budget (but hey, what government building isn't?), serves the production well; old-school windows and a mid-century fan add to the illusion of a muggy pre-A/C courthouse. Rosalie Oliveri outfits most of the cast in era-appropriate suits and skinny ties, except for Juror 6 (Michael Rains), who oddly looks like he stepped out of an Eddie Bauer catalog. City Theatre Company's Twelve Angry Men is a period drama, but in the hands of a great director and cast, its characters and themes – a cross-section of citizens grappling with their constitutional duty to serve on an impartial jury – seem strikingly contemporary.

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Twelve Angry Men, Austin theatre, City Theatre Company, Karen Sneed, Jim Lindsay, Rick Felkins, John Meadows, Brian Miller, Freddy Carnes, Johnny Stewart, Andy Berkovsky, Rosalie Oliveri, Michael Rains

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