On August 18, 2018, a jury in Washington DC deliberating in the most high-profile criminal case in America asked the judge for a definition of, “reasonable doubt.” At issue were charges against a former presidential campaign chairman alleging bank fraud, tax fraud,
money laundering, and other corrupt activities. The previous night in New Braunfels, Texas, a jury onstage at the Circle Arts Theatre began deliberating a charge of patricide against a 19-year-old Hispanic man. One factor alone links the two debates: the question of what constitutes of reasonable doubt. The Circle Arts jury was performing a play
written by Reginald Rose 64 years prior, a fact which spotlights reasonable doubt as an ill-defined and little-understood criterion at the heart of common law.
TWELVE ANGRY MEN demonstrates how easy it is to be absolutely certain about a thing, and find out later that you cannot be as sure as you thought you were. It also shows how low a hurdle reasonable doubt can be. It requires that no reasonable person can doubt that a defendant is guilty in the matter put forth by the prosecution.
Doubt is very difficult to eliminate, however, as we see played out on the stage. At the opening of Act I, the jury enters the deliberation room having just completed the trial and as we hear the instructions from the judge. They enter the room certain of the accused’s guilt. Except one juror who has just a small nagging doubt. For him, not everything quite adds up. We watch as the certain “known” facts of the case begin to unravel while the jurors argue.
The jurors themselves are emotionally invested in the matter of guilt or innocence. None is apathetic, and each angrily defends his position. This results in serious conflict among them, even nearing violence. And yet, they sojourn along as each fact in the case is examined.
The cast plays very well in ensemble. The actors themselves are a varied group: musician, physician, poet, teacher, businessman, librarian, journalists, husbands, fathers, students, and retirees. They play off one another’s characters very well, especially considering that for most, performing onstage is not their primary profession. There
are anxious confrontations,impassioned debates, and painstaking reconstructions of the crime. While I hesitate to call any one performance a standout, David Giminiani and Jeff Fowler do an excellent job of representing the extreme sides of the argument. W.R. Henderson’s monologue in the second act is a stunning revelation into his character and evokes extreme reactions in most of the others.
I was particularly delighted with the direction of Crystal Carter. She found just the right blend of extraordinary events happening to ordinary men in a seemingly mundane setting. The jurors’ configuration begins astride a long conference table, with jurors facing one another
directly, avery realistic setting to establish the tone, but not the best vantage point for the audience to view. Early in the first act, she uses a re-creation of the crime as an opportunity to butterfly the table. For the remainder of the performance the jurors are arranged facing the audience, reminiscent of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The effect is to great dramatic benefit.
TWELVE ANGRY MEN began as a teleplay on CBS in
September 1954. The stage adaptation began in 1955. In April 1957 the classic film was released which featured Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, E.G. Marshall, Ed Begley, et al. Fonda co-produced the movie with the author.
Circle Arts’ production of TWELVE ANGRY MEN is a definite recommendation for anyone wishing to see this tense classic drama.