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Compelling 12 ANGRY MEN @ Blank Canvas

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Little did Artistic Director Pat Ciamacco realize when he elected to produce Reginald Rose’s 12 ANGRY MEN that his selection would be fortuitous.  How could he have known that the Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman trials would be the major news stories, with the latter being decided the day Blank Canvas’s production opened.

With all the recent attention on the jury process, and the effects of the attitudes, prejudices, perceptions, and argumentative skills of the attorneys, observing the process up close, is an engaging experience.

12 ANGRY MEN is a drama about an all New York male jury, which, in 1957, is charged with deciding the fate of a teenager charged with killing his father.  Though the audience doesn’t sit in on the trial, itself, they are privy to the deliberations in the jury room.  As is the case in most criminal jury cases, the panel must unanimously agree on the verdict.  Failure to do so will result in a hung jury.  The guilty verdict will result in the death penalty.  The original tally of the jurors indicates an 11 to 1 vote for a guilty verdict.  As the debates go on jurors reveal racial prejudices, personal problems which enter into their thought processes, and business and historical situations which cause conflicts.

Rose has written several versions of the play, including an all female and mixed jury editions.  Interestingly, each of these was not as successful as the all male version.  Rose has a keen understanding of male speech and conflict patterns.  He understands that males spare for dominance, interrupt each other, display strong emotions including outbursts of both physical and verbal attack  and often let emotions cloud logical reasoning.  All of these are clearly displayed in the 12 ANGRY MEN dialogue.

Director Patrick Ciamacco, again, in this production, proves he is one of the best of the area directors.  The staging is meticulous.  Each actor has a clear understanding of his character and the person’s underpinnings.  Throughout, the cast reacts physically to on-going activities, not just waiting to say their lines, with focused eye contact, body movements and facial reactions.  Different accents, pacing, and vocal intensity are displayed.

There is not a weak characterization by any cast member.  Mitch Manthey stands out as the guilt-conflicted father.  Strong performances are also put in by  Robert Hawkes, Scott Esposito, Perren Henderson, Tom Hill, Tim Tavcar, and John Polk.

The set design creates the claustrophobic and needed warm atmosphere to develop the script’s setting and make the audience, who is seated within close proximity to the action, feel the oppressive heat.  Most of the costumes are era correct.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Blank Canvas’s 12 ANGRY MEN is a compelling production which should be a must see for anyone interested in the justice system, fine acting, and a special evening of theater.  BRAVO to the cast and director!

Blank Canvas’s  12 ANGRY MEN runs though July 27 in its near west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website.  Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  It’s an adventurous battle. For tickets and directions go to