’12 Angry Jurors’ guilty of not enough anger

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KNIFE TO MEET YOU - Vanessa Johnson, as Juror no. 4 in "12 Angry Jurors," makes a point to follow her fellow jurors.  PHOTO BY April Abarrondo

KNIFE TO MEET YOU – Vanessa Johnson, as Juror no. 4 in “12 Angry Jurors,” makes a point to follow her fellow jurors.
PHOTO BY April Abarrondo

If anything, Ruff Yeager’s production of “12 Angry Jurors” is guilty of being overly ambitious.

Jurors, cramped in a dingy and tiny conference room stage in Mayan Hall, failed to do justice to Reginald Rose’s archetypal characters.

Rose’s nameless characters become symbols in the play. Southwestern College’s student actors failed to grow beyond themselves and instead focused too hard on trying to act like grown-ups.

On a muggy New York City afternoon, jurors from all walks of life gather over a worn wooden table to decide the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father. As clear-cut as the verdict first appears, one righteous juror surgically dissects the evidence against the son and wins over every juror, raising doubt in their minds. Jurors eventually declare the defendant not guilty by reasonable doubt.

With a humming fan hovering over a freestanding water cooler, a dusty window in the distance and a shabby table centered by fluorescent lighting, gifted set designer Michael Buckley created a human hot house, where audience members felt just as trapped as the jurors deliberating the verdict.

This unique production featured two separate performances, one titled “12 Angry Men,” the other “12 Angry Women.” Yeager said his experimental revival was inspired by current events involving race relations.

Actors on both sides (male and female) generally lacked presence, sometimes stumbling or rushing through their lines.

Jurors no. 8, played by Julian Sobejana and Ciara Ceniceros, helped carry the escalating tension by inhabiting their personalities and stage with conviction. Sobejana felt effortlessly passionate and intelligent in his role.

Male juror no. 3, portrayed by Andres Efren Losoya, delivered his aggressive pronouncements stiltedly, while in the female version, Itzel Perez encapsulated all of the opinionated hostility of her character with forceful brilliance.

In his portrayal of a bigoted, angry man, Isaac Rojas highlighted the show with his racist speech. Rojas burrowed deep into his role and delivered a raw, emotionally charged moment.

Omar Ruiz-Medellin gestured awkwardly as he paced the room playing a wealthy businessman concerned only with the facts. Donning an impeccable and elegant dress, Vanessa Johnson’s portrayal of juror no. 4 appeared more organic and her sanctimonious tone carried a weight that was lost in Ruiz-Medellin’s phony accent.

Artistically, much of the mounting tension of the play was lost through uneven performances.

Sociologically, the production was successful in showing how our assumptions of gender roles played out in a theatrical setting. Much of the approach by both casts, however, was merely high-volume hostility, rarely showing any transformation through their characters.

At the end, the play endures.

Through heated arguments comes resolution, as juror no. 8 forces the other jurors to confront themselves and convinces them that there are too many unanswered questions for the boy to be guilty.

SWC’s revival of “12 Angry Jurors” turned out to be merely a polite nod to Reginald Rose’s timeless classic.

Much of the fire of the plot was robbed by affectless performances that failed to inspire a moral tone and deliver a message, forgetting that what they were voicing was bigger than them.

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