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“Twelve Angry Men” By Reginald Rose, Directed by Scott Ellis Roundabout Theatre Company, American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., New York, N.Y., www.roundabouttheatre.org/aa.htm “Twelve Angry Men” by Reginald Rose is a legal drama about the deliberations of 12 good men and true in a fictional murder case in a New York courtroom in the summer of 1954. It was elevated to legend status by a 1957 movie, starring Henry Fonda. The stage version now playing through Dec.19 at the American Airlines Theatre in New York City is better than the movie, though. Under the direction of Scott Ellis, the production vividly demonstrates the advantage of live theater over film. The story line is simple. A jury retires to deliberate the fate of a teenager, who has been accused of stabbing to death his father. At the outset, 11 of the 12 jurors think it is an open and shut case. Over the next hour and 40 minutes the jurors � and audience � discover that isn’t quite true. But to say “Twelve Angry Men” is a play about a jury is like saying that “Death of a Salesman” is about a salesman. It may be technically correct, but it misses the point. At least for this production. The jury’s deliberations are merely the vehicle playwright Reginald Rose used to discuss larger issues about human nature. There is, for example, the theme of racism. The accused is “one of them,” says a juror, who then explains his opinions in language we commonly hear about this group or that group. Rose’s genius though is that he doesn’t identify the defendant’s race or ethnicity. By not giving the audience context for the juror’s rants, Rose distills racism to its ugly essence. In a similar vein, Rose dwells on herd instinct and peer pressure, on the ease with which men find reasons to shirk their moral obligations to others, and on how a man with the courage to stand up for principle can make a difference. (Trial lawyers may find that Rose’s jury is more rational and more conscientious than real juries, but then he wasn’t trying to score legal points.) Of course, you could rent the movie version instead. That might be easier for Washingtonians than a trip to the Big Apple. However, seeing these 12 angry men seated around a long table on stage is the only way to bring out the visceral audience reactions that Rose intended for his words. D.C. lawyer James H. Johnston may be contacted at [email protected].

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