Four of us went to London to see our friend, Jeff Fahey, in the play, Twelve Angry Men, at the Garrick Theatre — Mike Rogers (Member of Congress from Michigan), Kristi Rogers, Mary Grace Richardson and myself. It was an idea that began fomenting in my brain last fall when we found out that Jeff was doing the play which had originally been made famous by the 1957 movie with Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb. The reviews of Fahey — as well as of the play — were glowing, and I couldn’t wait to see him in the role of Juror Number Three. We just had to find an appropriate time. (Weather in London had been atrocious with historic rains, but we lucked out and got sun half of the time.)
As many of you know London is one of my favorite cities, but I did think it was slightly amusing that I was going to London to see an American play with only three American actors in it. This meant that nine of the actors were British.
For any of you who have seen the movie, you know it is not in color. By the nature of being a movie, it is very two-dimensional. By being black and white, it is even more so. It is an intense movie — and I won’t give too much of it away for those of you who have not seen it — about the jury verdict at a murder trial. I have seen the movie several times over the years and have always enjoyed it but never would I have described it as having any funny moments.
The play is totally different. First, it is in color and very three-dimensional. The set is one jury room and it is staged in 1957 just as the movie was — no “updating,” thank heavens. The costumes are perfect with even the touch that all the pants are worn much higher than men wear them today. Everything about the set and sound has been done beautifully including the sounds of the “Ell” trains passing by as you wait for the curtain to rise. (One of us actually wondered if the London tube ran under the theatre as the sound seemed so real.)
A British actor, Martin Shaw, played the Henry Fonda role and Fahey played the Lee J. Cobb role. Robert Vaughn (yes, the Man from U.N.C.L.E.) played Juror number 9 who is the “old man” of the group. All of the performances were amazing including the fact that you could have been sitting in New York at the play and not noticed there was any connection to London. Even the accent of the announcer to turn off cell phones was done in an American accent. One character had a perfect Upper East Side accent; there was a Bronx one; and Irish American one — you get the picture.
In addition to my amazement at the quality of reproducing everything 1957 New York, I was bowled over by the humor in the play. Don’t get me wrong — this is not a comedy, but just like any good drama, there are moments of humor and this play has them. Even Juror Number Three (Fahey) who has serious personal issues has some very funny lines. Part of the reason the humor is more obvious in a play versus a movie is the timing to deal with the audience response. Parts of this play’s funny moments also come from the expertise of the actors and probably the director’s instructions. But the humor makes the drama even more potent.
The play has been extended to March 15th (and hopefully even longer so I can come back again and see it for the third time). And, yes, I saw it two nights in a row so I could really observe all the various intricacies. If you can, you must go see it. For two hours (with the exception of the intermission when you know you’re in London because they sell ice cream in the aisles) you will think you are in Manhattan in the ’50s watching men debate the fate of an accused murderer. You (I am also certain) will be completely moved by the cast’s portrayal of the various human personalities that exist in our everyday life. I, of course, was particularly riveted by Fahey’s performance — and that is not just because he is a friend. Both nights that I went had standing ovations. It is worth every penny for the ticket!