Play Edition: Twelve Angry Men and The Misanthrope

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Twelve Angry Men
by Reginald Rose

Twelve men are sequestered in a stuffy room and tasked with determining the fate of a boy who was accused of murdering his father. The jurors are indentified only by their numbers (juror two, juror four), which you would think would be confusing, but it isn’t. They take a vote and realize that 11 of the 12 believe the defendant is guilty. They need a unanimous vote for a conviction and in the instant they know this won’t be as easy as they’d hoped.

It’s amazing that Rose was able to pack such a powerful story into just over 60 pages. Every line is taut with energy and irritation. You can almost smell the sweat and fuming testosterone in the room. The jurors are a diverse bunch and each one feels like someone you might know. I loved this play and its message that it takes a brave man to stand alone for what he believes in.

Usually the movie version of a book in wince-worthy, but this is an exception. Henry Fonda’s portrayal of the main juror is wonderful! I’ve also seen this one performed live (starring Richard Thomas from The Waltons) and it’s just as enthralling.

The Misanthrope
by Jean-Baptiste Moliere

I was expecting dry and I got witty. I thought it would be stilted and instead I got clever rapid-fire barbs. Moliere’s cheeky play pokes fun at French aristocracy and social norms of the time. The main character, Alceste, despises the superficial French aristocracy. He refuses to pay false compliments and makes himself unpopular with the court.

Despite his high moral standards and distain for those around him, he’s still deeply flawed. He falls in love with a chronic gossip and flirt, Célimène. Even though he’s willing to marry her, she can’t stand the thought of giving up her constant string of suitors.

I loved the wordplay, which makes me wish I could read the original text in French. I’m sure it’s much better than the translation. I also think this would be an excellent play to see performed. It has a similar feel to some of Shakespeare comedies. It’s a quick read, but a good one.


Jessica said...

I don't think I have read a play since I was in school! I loved the film of 12 angry men as well and I keep meaning to watch it again.

Meytal Radzinski said...

Twelve Angry Man is one of my favorite movies but I never thought to read it. Seems like it might be worthwhile.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jessica - I love reading the occasional play because it's a completely different format. There are some great ones out there too!

Biblibio - I loved it as a movie first, but it's a great play!

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I've been meaning to read 12 Angry Men for ages. I love a tight story :)

Teacher/Learner said...

12 Angry Men is one of my favourite movies. Amazing! I'll need to seek out the play. Any big differences between movie & play?