12 Angry Men brings heat to the stage in Cambridge

CAMBRIDGE – Most of us have never been in a jury room, certainly not for a case involving a capital crime. It’s easy to imagine deliberations getting out of hand and giving rise to friction, frustration, anger, even rage.

However, there’s no need to imagine for those with a ticket to Drayton Entertainment’s current offering of the classic courthouse drama 12 Angry Men.

We’re given a window into the jury room at Manhattan’s Supreme Court on a sweltering day in 1957, as a dozen sequestered jurors get locked-down to decide whether a Harlem teenager is guilty of murder and deserving of the death penalty.

All the jurors, in addition to harbouring varying degrees of anger, are necessarily male. In the U.S., the  Civil Rights Act of 1957 gave women the right to serve on federal juries, but not until 1973 could women serve on juries in all 50 states. So add an extra dose of testosterone to the inflammatory elements already present.

As the jurors file into the room, created with stunning attention to detail by set designer Allan Wilbee, it appears they won’t be there for long. Comments seem to indicate an open and shut case and a quick verdict seems imminent.

However, after an exploratory vote reveals one dissenter to a guilty plea, the resultant mood change is palpable and the debate gets underway in earnest.

The classic script offers each actor a well-drawn character to work from and none of the 12 here fail to deliver on their portrayal. Everyone has their chances to shine but the meatiest roles go to Skye Brandon as the initial holdout and Benedict Campbell as the tortured Juror #3.

Brandon plays his role in the heated action with devastating cool, while Campbell’s intolerance with the others’ indecisiveness grows into one of the greatest emotional explosions you’re ever likely to see on stage.

Brad Rudy also stands out as Juror #10, whose revelation as an unapologetic bigot helps drive home the tone of the times and provides a disturbing reminder that such considerations can play into all manner of decisions, even today, or perhaps especially today.

Veteran director Marti Maraden sets a mean scene and allows this veteran cast to make the most of their roles. While she keeps the pot brimming with anger, she allows some humour to seep into the situation where warranted, keeping things from boiling over too soon.

In addition to Wilbee’s work, costume designer Jennifer Wonnacott, lighting designer Louise Guinand, stage manager Catriona MacFarlane and assistant stage manager Kelly Boudreau all help lend an authentic feel to this period piece.

If there’s any problem to be found in the staging, it’s the decision to have several of the jurors seated with their backs to the audience for significant chunks of the show. Granted, it would be difficult to avoid, given the need for a boardroom-style table, but it’s hard to shake the feeling there wasn’t a better way to do this.

Maraden does minimize the distraction by keeping the actors on the move around the room.

On opening night, the combined effect resulted in a spontaneous standing ovation, which began before the actors even started rolling out for curtain call.

12 Angry Men runs until Aug. 24 at the Hamilton Family Theatre in Cambridge.

Regular performance tickets are $48 for adults and $29 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for select discount dates and groups of 20 or more are $39. HST is applicable to all ticket prices.

Tickets may be purchased in person at any Drayton Entertainment box office, by calling the box office at 519-621-8000 and toll free at 1-855-drayton (372-9866) or online at www.draytonentertainment.com.