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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘12 Angry Jurors’ holds its grip in Fond du Lac

Critic At Large

Fond du Lac Community Theatre

Program covers. (Warren Gerds)

FOND DU LAC, Wis. (WFRV) – Entering the jury deliberation room, a bailiff holds a large plastic container for the jurors to drop in their cell phones. That’s a sign the version of the play “12 Angry Jurors” presented by Fond du Lac Community Theatre is contemporary. So is a reference to a juror wanting to catch that evening’s performance of “Hamilton,” a current hit musical.

Other contemporary elements include a mixed jury of six men and six women. One woman wears a hijab – a headscarf worn by many Muslim women.

Along the way, one of the women draws from her purse a knife – a switchblade. It seems highly unlikely anyone today could walk into a courtroom, or jury room, carrying a fancy switchblade – except in dramatic license in an adaptation of a classic American play.

The gist remains from 1954’s CBS-TV teleplay as “12 Angry Men” to today: The jury process has its fascinations and tensions, especially in the case of a homicide. That’s why the story has been a staple in American high school classrooms, with students taking parts.

Twelve personalities are stuffed in a sweltering room on a hot summer day. When their first vote is 11 guilty and 1 not sure, a cauldron of emotions bubbles.

The not sure Juror #8 (played by Misty Gedlinske) wants the rest to at least talk over the evidence rather than find guilt at the snap of a finger.

Tempers flare. So do flashes of bigotry, hatred and bias.

Everyone in veteran troupe member Matthew Rodenkirch’s cast has important moments about poverty, ageism, racism and more. An aura of individuality fills the stage.

Company members in lobby display. (Warren Gerds)

Key are faceoffs between Juror #8 (Misty Gedlinske) and bullheaded Juror #10 (Ron Jacobson) and firebrand Juror #3 (Barbara Carroll Pica). Stormy words fly among them and others, though no curses.

All around, the acting captures the earnestness of the jurors. Commitment runs through the performances.

The play is interesting in part because it’s a behind-closed-doors look at the jury system that is so much a requirement of a democracy. Being called to jury duty is a possibility for citizens, and “12 Angry Jurors” is a primer of who, what and when woven into a story loaded with mysteries.

The case is that of a 19-year-old male – a knife-carrying New York City street tough – who is accused of stabbing his father to death. Witnesses say they saw the act through an apartment window, heard him shout “I’m going to kill you” and saw the culprit running away. The defendant testifies he was at a movie at the time, but the box office person doesn’t recall seeing him, the youth has no ticket stub and he can’t name the movie.

Wanting to avoid a rush to judgment, Juror #8 creates in herself a reasonable doubt. The others are wholly unconvinced. Juror #3 is so adamant in her belief that she says she wants to be the executioner.

The production has oddities. All the players on stage wear masks. For the audience, masks are optional. Most people in the audience with me Friday night in Goodrich Little Theatre did not wear a mask. (I do as a matter of course in seeing performances in so many different theaters among audiences large and small).

Also, the production has two intermissions. The original “12 Angry Men” fit within an hour on TV. This version seems padded. Still, the reputation of the play stands because the material is strong and holds interest: It is a window on America, its pluses and its minuses. Fur flies over people who are “Them” from the shabby part of town, over those “who came running” from other countries and over differences of opinion. Juror #6 represents fairness and a determination to hold all to it in the jury system.

***

Creative: Playwright – Reginald Rose, adapted by Sherman L. Sergel; director Matthew Rodenkirch; assistant director/stage manager – Ashley Hernandez; set designer – Matthew Rodenkirch; set construction – Stephen Gedlinske, Blair Moon, Matthew Rodenkirch; set painting – Stephen Gedlinske, Matthew Rodenkirch; costumers – the cast; props – Ashley Hernandez, Kevin Rodenkirch; sound and lights – Matthew Rodenkirch

Cast:

Juror #1/Foreperson – Jeanne Tondryk
Juror #2 – Jon-Mark Bolthouse
Juror #3 – Barbara Carroll Pica
Juror #4 – Eleanor Wells
Juror #5 – Blair Moon
Juror #6 – Jerry Donohue
Juror #7 – Michael Detert
Juror #8 – Misty Gedlinske
Juror #9 – Kim Ruyle
Juror #10 – Ron Jacobson
Juror #11 – Lynn Moon
Juror #12 – Antonio Casetta

Bailiff – Ashley Hernandez

Running time: One hour, 58 minutes with two intermissions

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 and 2 p.m. Nov. 21

Info: fdlct.com

***

NEXT: “Matilda the Musical,” March 3-6, 2022.

THE VENUE: Goodrich Little Theatre is located at 72 W. 9th St. in the former Goodrich High School, today part of the Fond du Lac School District office building. “Little” is a bit of a misnomer. The theater auditorium holds 768. The space is high, somewhat wide and on three seating levels. Tan is a dominant color – seat backs, wall shadings, stage front, etc. Seats are metal-backed, with tiny check-like multicolor fabric in the seat cushions and backs and wooden arm rests. The floor is concrete, with carpeted aisles in a tan pattern. Side walls rise from a flat cream-colored surface, to smallish tan bricks to vertical, dark pattern wavy surfaces (for acoustical purposes). The ceiling over the stage is a black, flowing surface, and the surface over the audience area is cream-colored, rolling acoustical clouds. The stage is raised about three feet above the floor of the seating areaBeing part of an active building, the lobby and all the necessities of theatergoing are well-kempt.

THE PERSON: Lowell P. Goodrich was superintendent of Fond du Lac Public Schools from the early 1920s to 1941. When he died in 1949, he was superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools.

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