Rep succeeds with ‘Twelve Angry Men’


Back in what was the “Golden Age” of television, first-rate writers, directors and actors appeared frequently on such classic shows as Studio One, Playhouse 90 and The Fireside Theatre. In those days, TV producers were not afraid to employ top-tier playwrights, actors, actresses and directors to bring original works of very high quality to the small screen.

Among the all-time most successful TV theater programs in those days was Studio One, and perhaps its greatest and most enduring success was presenting the world premiere, in 1954, of Twelve Angry Men, which was made into a large-screen movie in l957, directed by Sidney Lumet, based on the original screenplay by Reginald Rose.


Rose, who along with such great writers as Paddy Chayevsky, Lionel Shapiro, and others from that era, later re-shaped Twelve Angry Men for the live stage, and the play has been brought to The Mainstage of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, through March 2.

Theater-goers with enough years to remember either the original TV play on Studio One, or the film 1957 film version, which was director Sidney Lumet’s debut feature film, will be pleased that the reworked script has retained nearly all of the closed-in, overheated, noirish energy of the original.

The action is set in the sweltering New York City summer of 1957, when a group of 12 jurors, all men, from 12 diverse walks and stages of life, gather to deliberate the fate of a young defendant who was accused of viciously stabbing to death his father. A verdict of guilty in those days in New York for such a case could send the young man to the gas chamber. The jurors are described as “by turns bigoted, receptive, hostile, rational, impatient, conscientious and yes, angry, and with only two ways to rule: guilty or not guilty.”

The jurors are not given names, only their juror numbers, and except for the sometimes reluctant foreman, are all on the same level as the juryroom drama begins. At first the case seems like a slam-dunk for a guilty verdict. The young defendant had a history of trouble with the law, did not have a credible alibi and was believed to have purchased the murder weapon, a distinctive-looking switch-blade knife. Moreover, the crime was witnessed by at least two people, whose testimony seemed compelling. The only sliver of doubt was the established violent temper of the murdered father.

Juror Number 6, described as an architect, after reflecting on the proceedings, prevents a quick guilty verdict by expressing his sincere belief that there was “reasonable doubt” as to the guilt of the young defendant. James Anthony, in a cool, collected and calibrated performance is convincing in the pivotal role of Juror Number 6, who was played by Robert Cummings in the 1954 Studio One version and by Henry Fonda in the 1957 film version.

In addition to Fonda, the cast of the 1957 Lumet-directed film consisted of Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, Sr., John Fiedler, E. G. Marshall, Jack Warden, Ed Binns, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman, George Voskovec, Robert Webber and Joseph Sweeney, a large percentage of them well-known Jewish actors, including Cobb, who performed for the Yiddish stage as Lee Jacoby.

In 1997, in response to questions about “reasonable doubt” raised during the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, Showtime produced a new version of the play with a racially diverse cast. The first-ever Broadway production of the version at The Rep was presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company in 2004, receiving highly favorable reviews and earning three Tony Award nominations, followed by a national tour.

With superb direction at the hands of Martin Platt, the cast puts in solid performances, worthy of the powerful actors who appeared in the popular film version. In addition to Anderson as Juror Number 6, the cast includes Peter Van Wagner, Gary Wayne Barker, Greg Thornton, Richmond Hoxie, Rich Pisarkiewicz, R. Ward Duffy, Jeff Talbott, Dane Knell, Steve Brady, Jerry Vogel, Craig Wroe and Greg Jonston. Platt had previously directed productions of Old Wicked Songs, Cyrano and Henry IV, Part I, for The Rep, and his well-honed directorial skills are evident in this taut melodrama.

The production’s artistic staff has also enhanced the show, in which all of the action takes place around the jury table, with effective lighting, authentic period costumes and real-looking props. As the hours tick by in the sweltering jury room, one can almost share the sweltering, anger-provoking ambience of the room, with the window open to a real-looking facade of New York buildings outside. Bravo to Judy Gailen, scenic designer; Claudia Stephens, costume designer; Dan Kotlowitz, lighting designer; Glenn Dunn, stage manager and Shannon B. Sturgis, assistant stage manager.

Juror Number 6 emerges as the true hero not only of the play, but also as a champion of the American jury system, which although flawed and on occasion wrong, provides defendants of every stripe with their day in court. His initial doubts gradually erode the solid wall of guilty votes in the initial tallies, and the suspense builds mightily as some of the jurors seem locked in their positions, based on sheer bigotry, personal family issues and even the desire to wind things up before an “important” New York Giants baseball game for which a crude-talking juror has tickets.

In its own way, Twelve Angry Men is a very “Jewish” play. The careful and rigorous deliberations which Juror Number 6 and his growing supporters insist upon is consistent with the rabbinic approach to the interpretation of sacred texts. Indeed, while the death penalty was available even in Biblical days, the ancient Jewish community very seldom reached such sentences. If a Jewish legal body, such as the ancient Sanhedrin reached a unanimous guilty verdict in a criminal case, especially a capital case, it was mandatory that another vote be taken; if even one person voted no, the death penalty could not be carried out. In the modern State of Israel, only genocide, crimes against humanity, can carry the death peanalty, and in the 60 years of Israel’s modern existence, only the convicted Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, the chief architect of the “final solution to the Jewish problem” was actually executed. He was hanged by the neck until dead; his remains were cremated and scattered over the Dead Sea.

The same original concept of Judeo-Christian values, which directly led to the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence and the administration of justice is on vivid display in Twelve Angry Men. Reginald Rose, whose career included six Emmy nominations and three Emmy Awards, later went on to create and write scripts for The Defenders, which also starred E.G. Marshall, who appeared in the 1957 film version of Twelve Angry Men as the pin-striped, highly-intelligent juror who “never sweats.” Rose’s first teleplay to be broadcast was The Bus to Nowhere, which appeared in 1951 on the same CBS anthology series, Studio One on which Twelve Angry Men first appeared, causing it to be called “The Reginald Rose Season.”

From television’s Golden Age classic Studio One up to and including the current production on The Mainstage of The Repertory Theatre in St. Louis, Twelve Angry Men indeed lives up to its description as one of the “immortal” dramatic works of the small and big screens and the live theater stage.

(Twelve Angry Men is appearing on The Mainstage at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, through March 2. For additional information or to purchase tickets visit The Rep Box Office, call 314-968-4925, or visit The Rep online at