Thursday, June 05, 2008

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

Of the Regression of Theatrical Edge

Ankled round to the Princess of Wales Theatre yesterday to see a performance of Twelve Angry Men. There I found myself overwhelmed by the realization that theatre which was considered edgy in the 1950s--in spite of its having become gruesomely clichéd through the 70s and 80s, dead and decayed by the 90s--has somehow, inexplicably, become edgy again in the aughts of this century.

For, while I found the play tedious in the extreme, not so my gasping, clapping, laughing, all-round agoging fellow audience members. The woman sitting to my right was particularly animated: how hard was her laughter when Juror #11 rebuked Juror #10 so soundly re. his ill-breeding! How violently did she shake her head (and how remorseful was her sigh!) when Juror #10 raved against society's underdogs and the threat they posed him and his brains-are-for-sissies countrymen! How proud was she of her acumen when she observed to her husband--at the point where Juror #3 is revealed to be projecting his own son's failings on the accused--that "He's projecting his own son's failings on the accused!"

Her performance couldn't have been more diverting if she'd been given her own spot-lit section of the stage from which to deliver her observations in Sign. And I'm most grateful to her for it.

But it is fascinating to me that we have managed to resurrect the appeal of a play as hopelessly dated as this one is. No doubt, at the height of McCarthyism, it wasn't entirely risible to suggest that thick people cease being thick when they become Democrats; that blue-collars and capitalists are Freudian clichés desperately in need of sorting-out by some fatuous tick in pants up to his armpits and whose voice, even in middle age, hasn't yet cracked. But the irony seemed somehow to have escaped the otherwise penetrating notice of my fellow audience members that, sans the McCarthy context, those were Twelve Angry Propagandists.*

This was the first production of the play that I've seen where I left the theatre uneasy in the feeling that the accused got away with murder.


*Editor's note: I suggested to Snook that perhaps the renewed interest in TAM has something to do with the current uneasiness over hate crimes tribunals. His reply: "One, no such uneasiness exists amongst anyone I know. Two, "reasonable doubt"--the hammer with which the fictional accused's shackles are broken--is used to establish guilt, not innocence, in the courts you mention."