Community Players deliver a tour de force with ‘12 Angry Men’

Local actors, director prove that practice, combined with fierce talent, really does make perfect

By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

Sept 26, 2007 - While there’s no way to calculate how many theater companies have performed “12 Angry Men” since it originally aired on television in 1954, it’s probably safe to say that very few groups have prepared for their opening night as rigorously as The Community Players.

Staff Photo by Terry Mathews

David Woody (standing) explains his reason for voting “not guilty” to Stan Shipp (left) and  Mike Dodd (right) during the Community Players’ production of the courtroom drama “12 Angry Men.”

�We�ve been rehearsing four nights a week since mid-August and we worked on the set on weekends,� said Sherrie France, who is directing this production. �And for the last two weeks, it�s been five nights a week.�

First-time actor Richard Hatley says he’s had a lot of fun, but being part of the cast was “like having a second job.”

Tackling the play could not have been an easy task for France. Besides having 12 principal actors on the stage throughout the play, there is an extraordinary amount of tension created by the conflict between the characters. Maintaining that kind of intensity for 1 hour and 41 minutes without an intermission must take a toll on everyone involved. 

�It�s hard to stay in character that long,� France said. �But I�m confident in my cast.�

That confidence is not ill-placed. Each actor gave a strong, steady and secure performance at Tuesday’s dress rehearsal. While the bulk of the lines fall to Stan Shipp, Russ Korth, Joseph McCorkle and David Woody, the rest of the cast also offer strong support. Each man has his moment in the spotlight as he struggles with a life-and-death decision in a complicated capital murder trial.

During the first moments of the play, Shipp, who plays the role made famous by Henry Fonda, stands alone against the other 11, fights a guilty verdict because he is not convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused, a troubled young man, really did stab his abusive father.

Shipp holds firm despite some formidable pressure delivered by Korth, Mike Dodd and John Smith.

Korth’s character is the original grumpy old man. He’s ill-tempered, quick to show flashes of both anger and arrogance. He’s ready to declare the young man guilty from the get-go. As the action progresses, the audience gets a glimpse at the possible cause of his anger, but we never learn the rest of his story.

McCorkle brings a lot of experience, both in life and on the stage, to his role as a reasonable but stubborn man who sees the world in black and white. He’s a pleasure to watch. 

Staff Photo by Terry Mathews

Russ Korth (standing) examines a “switchknife” as (from left to right) Matthew Woodward,  John Smith,  Johnny Edwards and Daron Bilyeu look on during some tense moments in the play “12 Angry Men,” which opens Thursday at Main St. Theatre.

Dodd does bored really well. He rolls his eyes, mocks the others as they deliberate and chews gum throughout the performance, even when he’s lying on the floor, the victim of a mock stabbing.

Rick Moser plays a naturalized citizen who lends an outsider’s view to the deliberations. He speaks to the responsibilities that come with freedom and the right to debate issues. Moser handles the part with grace and elegance.

Woody is to be commended for the way he tackled his part. His transformation from a fit, middle-aged contactor to a stooped, graying gentleman is remarkable. From the moment he shuffles painfully into the jury room until the final curtain call, Woody never breaks character. He is stooped, gray, arthritic and weak of voice. His expert make-up and wardrobe complete the look of a man weary from the burden of a lifetime of regrets.

However, the show’s most dramatic moment comes from a scorching speech by Smith.

I’m not sure where this kid got his training or his motivation, but he delivers a stunning diatribe about “those kind of people.” He rails against them. His booming voice and intimidating presence bring the tension to a fevered pitch as he ratchets up his attack, one politically incorrect sentence at a time. 

As Smith crosses the threshold of decency, the men rise from the jury table, one at a time, and turn their backs on him. It is a powerful and defining moment. Kudos to French for casting Smith. He is brilliant.

When asked where he found the energy necessary to sustain the scene, Smith said, “I am feeding off the others. And I’ve had a lifetime to think about it [the subject matter].”

France and her cast are offering an evening of high drama and expertly drawn characters who struggle with their demons, finally putting them aside long enough to do the right thing. 

If you are a fan of live theatre, put this production on your “to see” list. Brava!

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