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Review of Prana Productions’ Twelve Angry Men

by Ceci LeBeau
July 3, 2017

The cast of Prana's 12 Angry Men

Friday afternoon I had the pleasure of watching a dress rehearsal for Twelve Angry Men. For those not acquainted with the story, it was immortalized in a black and white film starring Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb in 1957. In an era when only men were called for jury duty, a murder trial is conducted for a sixteen year old boy brought up in the slums who is charged with killing his father. His life is then in the hands of these “Twelve Angry Men.”  Here instead were ten jurors, played amazingly well by students going into sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Roberta Weiner, director of Prana Productions, rewrote the play to include female characters, to accommodate ten actors and actresses, and to pare down the play to an hour.  It succeeded famously.


Claudia McMahon (holding chair) is demonstrating how a witnesses' testimony is inaccurate. She is a Holliston 7th grader

As the jurors assemble, all are convinced the boy is guilty and are ready to convict except one, played very adeptly by Claudia McMahon. She attempts to use reason and logic, by pacing out steps and counting seconds, to show how unlikely the eye witness testimony is. Slowly she awakens doubt in her fellow jurors. Some of them, like the bigoted woman played by Olivia Gallerzani, are sure the boy did it because he’s “one of them,” a category that remains unnamed. Her acidic comments have a sadly familiar ring.


Evelyn Simon (standing), playing an immigrant, confronts a Yankees fan who switches his vote to get to the game on time, played by Libby Frassinelli. Both are Holliston 7th graders.

The watchmaker, an elegant woman played by Evie Simon, finds her views discounted by the angry Yankees fan played by Libby Frassinelli because she’s a foreigner and an immigrant. Zoe Rosen plays an adman who resents the intrusion of the trial and doesn’t want to waste any more time talking.  Nora Kempner plays a well dressed, articulate woman who is made to relate to the witness and how she could be reacting to stress because she too wears uncomfortable glasses. The Boston Red Sox fan played by Anna Rosenfeld irritates the Yankees fan, and caustically comments on how she’s been nursing this “trash” for years in her job at a hospital.


Rehearsing the confrontation with the switchblade in 12 Angry Men at the Prana Center. Paige Rezendes (with knife), Holliston 9th grader, with 7th grader Claudia McMahon. Note Peace Love Smile shirt! Looking on to the right with shocked faces are holliston 8th graders Zoe Rosen and Libby Stott.

It is all the foreman, played by Libby Scott, can do to keep the bickering from escalating to violence. In one riveting scene, one juror draws a switchblade to demonstrate how the boy must have knived his father, only to have the courageous doubter played by McMahon produce a switchblade of her own, bought easily at a pawn shop just a few blocks from the actual murder. An older man with a cane, played by Jackson Huckans, throws doubt on the testimony of the eyewitness who, like him, is old and can only move slowly. He speaks eloquently of how someone who has always felt like a nobody could seize the opportunity of serving as an eyewitness to elaborate on or even falsify the truth to make himself seem crucial to the trial, and perhaps even get his name in the newspaper.

In the end the lone holdout, as played convincingly by Paige Resendez, refuses to see that the 16 year old boy could be anything but guilty, despite the shaky evidence. As tempers reach the breaking point, he reveals the bitterness he has against his own son, who has soundly rejected him. It becomes clear that he needs to see this boy punished to satisfy his own frustrations. In a poignant moment, McMahon gently reminds him that it’s not his son who’s on trial. Resendez breaks down in tears, and the jury is united that the boy is not guilty. Significantly, as the jury files out, it is his arch nemesis, as played by Claudia McMahon, who hands Paige Resendez’ character his hat and coat.

This drama cuts through pretenses and asks a question as relevant today as it was in the 1950’s: can people see beyond their own prejudices and stereotypes? Specifically, can a group of people look past the fact that they are hot, tired, annoyed with each other and impatient, and deliver a verdict that will save an innocent boy from the electric chair? This production satisfyingly answers this with a resounding yes.

 

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Comments (2)

The play was riveting! The kids had a blast and you can read it in their faces at the cast party and all the fabulous pictures and videos Roberta lists on FB. Roberta is amazing! Thank you for writing such a detailed and positive article. The kids will be so proud seeing this!!!

- Wendy Rezendes | 7/3/17 8:55 AM

Thanks so much for this wonderful review, Ceci! We always love having you attend our shows. You have such a thoughtful eye for theatre and I love how you notice small moments as well as large. Thank you!!!

- Roberta Weiner | 7/3/17 8:34 AM

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