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PTC's '12 Angry Men' a riveting classic

"Twelve Angry Men," through Feb. 27, Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 801-581-6961, running time: 2 hours (no intermission)

Most legal thrillers take place in the courtroom — with the defense, the prosecution and the rapid fire back and forth.

But "Twelve Angry Men" flips the camera to the jury room. A man has just been tried for killing his father, the jury files into the room, and the door is locked behind them.

Twelve nameless men from 12 varied backgrounds must now decide the fate of the young man; a fate that could possibly end in the electric chair.

First of all, Reginald Rose's work (with the stage adaptation by Sherman S. Sergel) is such a great piece, it would be hard to mess it up.

But, if you add to that 12 men who are wonderful actors under the direction of a sure hand, you're in for a great night of theater.

That's exactly what they've done at Pioneer Theatre Company.

Let's first talk about John Going's direction which, to put it simply, is brilliant. To stage a show in which 12 men sit around a table and talk is a challenge, but Going's blocking makes it interesting, natural and captivating. The men gaze out the window, pace, wash up in the bathroom, get drinks from the water cooler and try to fix a fan mounted on the wall. This is while discussing — and at times exploding at — one another about the ins and outs of the case — or, more immediately, why juror No. 8 can't just agree to send the kid to the chair so they can be home in time for dinner.

Going's cast is fabulous, as equally talented as they are varied in physicality and characterization. It is nice to see some local actors get a decent size of the pie. Paul Kiernan, juror No. 10, is an angry, volatile bigot, and Tobin Atkinson, juror No. 5, is a more soft-spoken but not timid man who helps illustrate a key factual question.

Bob Ari's impassioned explosions, Lou Liberatore's cocksure demeanor, Michael Mckenzie's reserved propriety and Joseph R. Sicari's short but feisty immigrant are just a few of the men who make this group of 12 so riveting.

Adding to the outstanding performances is Bill Clarke's beautiful set — capturing a 1957 New York jury room, even during a thunder and rain storm. Jeff Hill's dingy lighting of the old room and Carol Wells-Day's period costumes are also well done. One distraction, however, is the fake sweat stains on the men. The story takes place on a very hot New York afternoon, but the sweat just seemed a bit perfect and a bit much.

But, if that's the only troublesome thing, then PTC is doing something right.

Don't miss "Twelve Angry Men." It's a wonderful production of a true theater classic, and when all of the pieces fit so well into the puzzle, it allows you to stop and really think about which juror you would be: Would you be strong enough to stand up for your reasonable doubt?

e-mail: ehansen@desnews.com