A powerful cast does excellent justice to the treasured theatre staple “Twelve Angry Men,” which opened under the direction of Bill Rhoten at the Theatre Rocks! last weekend and continues through June 30.
In this drama, a jury must consider the guilt or innocence of an inner-city teen accused of murdering his father. The play opens as the jurors begin deliberations behind closed doors, with a nearly unanimous inclination toward finding the young man guilty – and saddling him with a mandatory death sentence.
A single dissenter, Juror No. Eight (Larry LeMaster of Dallas), forces each juror to look more carefully at the case and reflect on the meaning of “reasonable doubt.” LeMaster has 20 years of stage and film credits under his belt, including a previous Rhoten production of “Twelve Angry Men,” and his skillful delivery keeps the play firmly grounded.
Both Rickey Crenshaw of Red Oak and Rich Raymond of Midlothian are also reprising their roles as Juror No. Three and Juror No. Ten, respectively. They each bring such real anger to the angriest of the jurors that it puts the audience on the edge of their seats.
Caryn Spaniel of Ennis is reprising her role as the Guard, as well.
Newcomers to this script are not newcomers to this stage: Mike Hall of Dallas won a Best Actor award in Theatre Rocks!’ previous production of “Skin Deep” and has been racking up film and TV credits the last few years. As Juror No. Five, he shares the accused’s dicey upbringing and realistically objects to considering everyone from a slum a criminal.
Ben Rosewell of Waxahachie (Foreman) also is a Theatre Rocks! award winner and winningly tries to keep order in this increasingly volatile jury deliberation room. Jack Kovar of Ennis (Juror No. Two) has been working with Rhoten since he was young and has great timing as a somewhat timid, time-keeping juror.
Chase Hoffman, a rising senior at Ennis High School, proves he has the chops to hang in there with the big guys as Juror No. Seven. And he gets to work with his dad, Stephen Hoffman, who as Juror No. Four often tries to be a voice of reason – yet is also biased against slum kids and fearful of allowing a killer back on the streets.
Sam Chapeau of Ennis plays Juror No. Six, whose outlook is constantly being shifted by the power of other people’s words. Some of the best words are delivered by Bill Walker of Red Oak (Juror No. Nine) and Chad Rea of Gun Barrel City (Juror No. Eleven).
Walker plays the oldest of the jurors, who is especially understanding of an older witness’ need for recognition. “Nobody knows him after seventy-five years. This is a very sad thing.”
And Rea plays an immigrant who reminds the jurors of the remarkability of democracy. “We have nothing to gain or lose by our verdict. This is one of the reasons why we are strong. We should not make it a personal thing.”
Finally, Paul Perry of South Ellis County is more often seen in the Ellis County courthouse as county commissioner for Precinct 3; however, he has appeared in a couple of other plays under Rhoten’s direction. As Juror No. Twelve, he is a chain-smoking ad salesman convincingly worried about losing his job while serving on a jury for an extended time.
Reginald Rose adapted this play from his 1954 teleplay of the same title; three years later, his feature film adaptation starring Henry Fonda, Lee Cobb, and Ed Begley was nominated for three Academy Awards. While it was a great work of the 1950s, the play addresses issues that remain fresh and relevant.
As the deliberations continue, different reasons are revealed for jurors both discriminating against and sympathizing with the accused: race, background, trouble father-son relationships.
“Twelve Angry Men” runs through June 30 at Theatre Rocks!, 505 NW Main St. in Ennis. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, June 21, 22, 28 and 29, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 30. Tickets are $15 for general adult admission, $12 for students and senior adults. For information or reservations, call 972-878-5126 or visit www.theatrerocks.com.