New Acting School gets ANGRY: Twelve Angry Men opens ACT-OUT Acting Program Master Class

ACT-OUT Acting School in association with Genesis Repertory presents a master class final project:

Adapted by Sherman Sergel. Based on the Emmy award-winning television movie by Reginald Rose. Produced by special arrangement with The Dramatic Publishing Company of Woodstock, Ill. 
An ACT-OUT Master Class

Review by Bob Greene

The golden age of television brought us classic dramas from anthology programs like Playhouse 90 and Studio One. The latter featured works by teleplay writer Reginald Rose. While he was somewhat prolific in this time period, today he is known almost solely for one great work: Twelve Angry Men. The jury room drama that appeared on television, film, and stage. The most recent live outing came thanks to John Stillwaggon’s Act-Out acting program. Prof. Stillwaggon used this ensemble drama as sort of a final exam for his class of adult artists, some continuing their theatrical education, other embarking on one. It was impressive to not be able to – at a glance – see who were the veteran performers and who were the novices.

The play’s plot is simple. A young man of some ethnic persuasion (most productions keep this fact ambiguous, not here as this production was modernized, the ethnicity was topical as well) is on trial for the murder of his father. While we are handed facts that are meant to lead us – and the jury – to believe that this boy is guilty beyond a doubt, one lone juror, wants to re-examine the facts. What results is an hour of taught, engrossing drama that shows none of its 57 years of age.

Twelve Angry Men worked well for Stillwaggon’s class as it is meant to be a group of a dozen strangers, so a class of varied types fit right in: Raja RG was solid as the foreman and held the narrative well in a no-nonsense manner, while Joyce Adams provided levity by being consistently confused. Ms. Adams light interpretation made her truly likable. William Doyle was excellent as the famed belligerent juror with an ax to grind. Here we found a totally fleshed out character straight down to his spot-on costume choice. We believed his ardor came from ignorance so we never truly hate him. Olga Privman gave us a professional woman character that was most refreshing. It put the play squarely in the present and her powerful presence moved the action well. The same can be said for Andy Guzman’s ethnic juror who will not forget where he came from. Guzman and fellow juror Andrew Marcillo contributed a genuine toughness that could easily have been lost among some of the more outspoken characters but both men delivered strong sensitive portrayals that enhanced the action. Robert Aloi and Mohammad Saad were true standouts as the blow hard, ignorant juror and the new American, proud to be as such. Aloi’s clumsy swagger and over-the-top delivery was the stuff of great drama and when it was combined with Saad’s focused piercing delivery, peppered with an accent that made lines about being American that much more poignant, the play was at its peak. Kristen O’Blessin handed us a smarmy advertising middle exec, whose journey from the “obvious” to the real was both humorous and touching. Robert Saunders and John Harrison played two ends of the same coin – one, a sad man hoping to make a difference and the other, a sad man too blind to see the detriment he was making. Saunders’ slow gait and warm voice made us care, while Harrison’s monologue in the latter half of the play about “those people” brought gasps from the audience. The choice to show us who was on trial by mentioning the unmentionable event of 2001 could have destroyed the play but in the hands of Mr. Harrison, it was a wake-up call.

Finally, Christopher Sirota’s performance as the famed “Juror #8,” the lone juror with the almost impossible task of swaying his colleagues, was inspired. Playing him as a meek unimportant, unnoticed little man was very clever. Never loosing this quality, we truly saw – not only his battle with his fellow sequestered colleagues – but the inner battle with himself to stand up for what’s right. Sirota walked the fine line between performability and reality by giving us great command of the stage in a subtle portrayal. Thinking of this piece by today’s standards, he struck a strong chord for the “everyman” everywhere.

Giving his students a bigger obstacle, Stillwaggon staged the piece in the round. He is to be commended for offering his students a bevy of challenges not normally found in an acting program. One might say he is a juror #8 by having abundant faith in his students.

While it must be said that there were lost moments due to volume or diction, sight line issues with the in-the-round setting juxtaposed with audience placement, and questions regarding choice of costume and color, the overall product was a great night in the theater.

One might also ask: did his get 12 students and then pick the play or was he lucky enough to get 12 students for the play?

Act-Out should be praised for providing such a service in a neighborhood setting and Genesis Repertory should receive its own praise for sponsoring such an event.

Bob Greene is a former playwright and retired history professor. Today, he writes for several online services.

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