Thursday, February 23, 2012

Two Reviews for "12 Angry Men"

The opening weekend was a success in the eyes of our sold-out audiences. Today we are pleased to learn that the critics were also impressed the the work of the cast and our fine directors and production team.

Here are some of the words offered by

‘Twelve Angry Men’ comes to The Players’ Ring in Portsmouth

The judgments we make about others reveal as much about ourselves as they do about the people being judged. That’s the central premise behind Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men,” onstage now at The Players’ Ring in Portsmouth.

The story takes place in a New York court on a sweltering day in the summer of 1957, directly following the trial of a 16-year-old boy accused of murdering his father. If found guilty, he faces the death penalty. A jury of 12 men must decide his fate.

At first, the decision seems clear. The boy is from the slums and has a violent criminal history. The evidence mounted against him is compelling, and his alibi is flimsy. Before deliberations even begin, 11 of the 12 jurors are convinced of his guilt. But one juror (G. Matthew Gaskell) isn’t so sure. Much to the frustration of the others, he begins poking little holes of reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case.

As the play’s title suggests, tempers run high in the stuffy jury room, creating an uncomfortably tense atmosphere that permeates the audience. As the unnamed jurors spar with each other, snippets of their own diverse backgrounds are revealed, along with the personal prejudices that influence their judgment.

The set at The Players’ Ring consists of little more than one long, wooden table surrounded by wooden chairs. But the personalities that fill those chairs keep the room pregnant with tension. There’s an old man (Al Chase) who empathizes with an elderly witness. There’s a foreign immigrant (Shawn Crapo) clinging to his faith in the American justice system. There’s a young man from the slums (Brian Kelly) who may understand the defendant’s plight better than anyone else.

Then there’s a troubled father (Scott Caple) whose empathy lies with the victim. There’s a garage owner (Todd Hunter) whose vision is clouded by paranoid bigotry. Another juror (Jamie Bradley) seems to care little about the outcome of the trial as long as he leaves in time to catch the ballgame that night.

These latter three offer the production’s most compelling performances. All three characters stubbornly insist on a guilty verdict even as the facts of the case are increasingly called into question. Caple (whose theatric talents include a booming voice) boils in his own misdirected rage. Hunter offers one of his finest performances, filled with convincingly bitter cynicism and hatred. Bradley, as usual, is a dynamic presence capable of mocking humor and explosive fury.

Meanwhile, Gaskell’s character maintains his pragmatic cool even in the face of raucous shouts and threats, gradually brewing uncertainty among the others. Gaskell provides a sensitive voice of reason in a caustic and overstressed environment.

The other actors offer their own distinctive turns, including foreman Dave Ostrowski and jurors Ed Hinton, Eric Doucet, Steve Johnson and Matthew Schofield. Together they represent the American melting pot.

Reginald Rose originally wrote “Twelve Angry Men” for television in the 1950s. It was adapted into a film later that decade and again in 1997. Its Broadway debut came in 2004. Though set more than 50 years ago, the issues of race and class raised in the play, as well as the hazards of the judicial system, are as relevant today as ever.

Whether the defendant is in fact guilty is beside the point. More important are the implications of putting a young man’s life in the hands of a group of flawed human beings with unique experiences inseparable from their point of view. Directors Dan Stowell and Kaitlyn Huwe do an admirable job of transporting the audience back to the late ’50s without abandoning the present.

“Twelve Angry Men” runs through March 4 at The Players’ Ring, 105 Marcy St., Portsmouth, 603-436-8123. Show times are 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m. on Sundays (2 p.m. on Sunday, March 4). Tickets are $12 to $15.

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Here is the review from

Twelve angry men sit around a table arguing, cajoling, compromising, even threatening; a teen's life hangs in the balance.

The table, set at an angle, center stage at the Players' Ring theater seems enormous. It crowds the room, giving the sense it's pushing back on the audience, which is exactly why the Ring is a perfect place to stage the American classic "Twelve Angry Men." The audience is in the pressure cooker along with the dozen jurymen.

Every emotional strain and shift rolls off the distinct characters, charges the air and affects everyone in the cramped room, thanks to 12 solid to superb performances.

Co-directors (first-timer) Daniel Stowell and Kaitlyn Huwe do a nice job with blocking and action. But the core reason for the play's success is their knack for casting; right person, right role.

Each performer transmits the basic humor of his character with ease. Even the less-seasoned actor emanates the right ethos, whether belligerent, arrogant, or timid.

The play's description in a nutshell: 12 jurors are in deliberation stage of a murder trial in which a teen is charged with murdering his father. Initially only Juror No. 8 believes there is reasonable doubt.

G. Matthew Gaskell gives a strong performance as staid, Juror No. 8, a man of conviction who picks his way through the evidence and carefully directs each inquiry for its greatest impact.

Three Jurors, No. 3, played by Scott Caple, No. 7, Jamie Bradley, and No. 10, Todd Hunter are the angriest, each with their own brand of prejudice. Each is a standout both for his volatile, large roles and the strength of the actor's performance. You really don't like these men, some even less than others. It's hard to get beyond the dislike to see it's craft at work that makes it so effective.

Both Eric Doucet and Shawn Crapo aptly play less seismic, but equally powerful characters. Doucet is the "logical one," who prides himself in his even, detached approach, all visible in Doucet's subtle, detailed performance.

Crapo, as Juror No. 11, is the smoothest performer on stage. His Middle Eastern, thoughtful, secure, heartfelt character is played to perfection.

All the cast members give their character the right touch, Newcomer Steve Johnson's portrayal of Juror No. 6, sort of Mr. Workingman, is truly smart. Kudos also to Dave Ostrowski, Foreman; Ed Hinton as No. 2, Brian Kelly as No. 5, Al Chase, as No. 9 and Matthew Schofield, as No. 12.

The one drawback opening weekend was the frequency of stumbled lines. It's very unlikely, given the talent that will continue into week two.

All of the supporting arts are well appointed, sound and music design, by Jacquelyn Benson, lighting by Ed Hinton, and set by Stowell and Gaskell.

"12 Angry Men," (appropriate and even advised for mature tweens and teens), is a night of strong performances, great theater, entertainment and thought — one can hardly go wrong with this combination.

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I have been told that some of this weekend's performances are already nearly sold out, since if you plan to come to Portsmouth, do not delay in securing your tickets.


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