March 4th, 2024

Show Review: 12 Angry Men a strong return to drama for MHMT

By RYAN MCCRACKEN on April 20, 2023.

NEWS PHOTO RYAN MCCRACKEN Juror 3, portrayed by Martin Schultz, is restrained by his fellow jury members during a heated moment during Tuesday's Medicine Hat Musical Theatre media night performance of 12 Angry Men. The show opens Thursday at 8 p.m. for the first of six performances.

After focusing on comedies for the bulk of the past few seasons, Medicine Hat Musical Theatre is stepping back into the world of drama with 12 Angry Men, and it does not disappoint.

Opening tonight for the first of six shows, 12 Angry Men give the local playhouse room to flex its more serious muscles, both through a series of impressive performances from its all-male cast, and through creative use of costume and set design from its all-female crew.

The entirety of the play takes place behind the locked doors of the jury room, as the 12 men in question deliberate the results of a murder trial while the life of a 16-year-old accused of murdering his father hangs in the balance.

One would expect the nature of this set-up to place limits on what can be achieved in terms of set and costume – and in some ways it does, with a dozen white-collared shirts serving as a stark contrast to the dark, stripped-down aesthetics of the jury room – but those limitations are explored in surprising and creative ways.

The play features Medicine Hat Musical Theatre’s first-ever rotating stage, but while you’ll notice it move as the debate progresses toward a conclusion, it will be nearly impossible to spot in the movement itself – almost as though you’re the one pacing around the table as tempers start to flare. This subtle rotation also does well to highlight the expressions of each jury member without putting any undue stress on the fourth wall.

While each of those jury members enter the room sporting the same basic attire (dressed for jury duty, after all) subtle differences are used to great effect. Much like walking into a room of strangers, these little style choices – such as each character’s tie, from its width or length, to how loose it’s worn – serve as identifiers, and give the audience a brief glimpse into who the jurors were before entering this room.

Richard Grafton’s Juror 8, the initial holdout sitting in the grey area between guilt and innocence, is the only man wearing a grey suit.

The mostly-mild-mannered Juror 2, played by Travis Boser, shows a meek personality through his bowtie and suspenders before even delivering a line.

Juror 4, played by John Whidden, has a rigid, by-the-book demeanour that becomes all the more evident by his decision to keep his blazer on without so much as loosening his tie.

And Miles Thorson’s Juror 7 wears his intentions to catch the evening’s ball game on the short sleeves of his golf shirt and brim of his cap.

The men wearing those costumes help to sell all these little details with commitment to their roles, from Rick Robinson’s Juror 1 – the foreman of the group tasked with keeping the anger from boiling all the way – to Rob Olson’s Juror 12, who must take it upon himself to break from a ‘yes man’ mentality.

Grafton puts in a strong showing as the lone dissenter tasked with driving the plot forward, while Martin Schultz adds notable chemistry to his counter-balance performance of Juror 3, defiant in the belief that the accused must be guilty.

The cast and script also do well to navigate the more sensitive issues involved in the plot, such as Ryan Haystead’s Juror 10 coming to terms with his own prejudices or Schultz’s Juror 3 needing to separate his personal experiences from those of the witnesses.

The story of 12 Angry Men has been told countless times in myriad ways over the better part of a century, but the message it delivers hasn’t aged a day. There must always be room for debate.

Twelve Angry Men opens tonight and continues with shows on April 21 and 22, and 27-29. All shows start at 8 p.m.

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