Emilia Di Luca
Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men slips off the silver screen and onto Soulpepper’s stage. Still, the classic courtroom drama doesn’t look too different, minus one familiar face, Henry Fonda. This time, a familiar face of Soulpepper, Stuart Hughes, takes on infamous Juror 8.
Juror 8 is just one of twelve men who must decide if the boy accused of murder is guilty or not. A preliminary vote reveals everyone—except Juror 8 (Stuart Hughes)—deems the boy guilty. Pitted against Juror 8 is a prejudice redneck, Juror 10 (William Webster), a baseball fanatic, Juror 7 (Cyrus Lane), and most notably, a resentful father Juror 3 (Joseph Ziegler).
Director Alan Dilworth and his ensemble convince their audience of the tug-of-rope tension strung between each juror. Like Hughes, Soulpepper veterans (Webster and Ziegler) assume their notable roles next to some fresh faces (like Lane and Byron Abalos). Familiar or fresh, all give powerful performances, but the silences following Hughes and Ziegler’s face-to-face confrontation, or Webster’s racist rant as Juror 10, punctuate the statement scenes.
Admittedly, I doubted the excitement of this screen to stage translation. The classic script contains many moments that hold little physical action; there is a lot of talking and sitting. My concern escalated when the ensemble first appears, a little stiff and slow. But when the heat weighing these jurors translates into heated debate, action flourishes on set.
Dilworth capitalizes on the one thing screen doesn’t have—a stage. Indeed, set and costume designer Yannik Larivée recalls the 1957 film; there’s a broken fan, a water dispenser, a retro sink, and a long wooden table in the center. Here’s the difference: the audience sits across from one another with the stage in middle, echoing the table, which the jurors debate across. Dilworth literally manifests the split verdict, guilty or not guilty, with a split audience. Jurors often peer toward the audience as though looking out giant windows. As spectators, we look in from outside.
It is only fitting then that spectators feel the effects of the thunderstorm of Act Two. Stage and house lights flicker at the crack of thunder. Before Act Two, I mistook some stray water droplets to be signs of the Young Center getting old. These droplets are a distraction until finally water falls like raindrops on either side of the stage, perfectly dampening the jurors’ moods with a constant pitter-patter.
Unlike the rain, the opening and closing music of sound designer Richard Feren is less than subtle. While it lends a 1950s flare to the retro set and costumes, the music is a tad melodramatic, cartoonish even, which threatens the actors’ genuine performances.
Once the music signals the play’s end, however, I hear thunderous applause. Judging from the spectators across from me, I see one happy audience in favour of Twelve Angry Men.
Soulpepper’s Twelve Angry Men runs until July 29th at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. For tickets and other information, visit https://www.soulpepper.ca.
Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann