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Center Stage

A long night and a late love

2/17/2016

Micheal Davenport takes you straight to the heart of a racist. As “Juror No. 10,” in “12 Angry Men,” he bares an irrational hatred of “those people.” Isolated stage front, his round face contorts as if in a nightmare, first menacing and then frightened.

“12 Angry Men.” Des Moines Playhouse. www.dmplayhouse.org.  Wednesday – Saturday, Feb. 17-20, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21, 2 p.m. “Outside Mullingar.” StageWest, Kum & Go Theater. www.stagewestiowa.com.  Wednesday – Saturday, Feb. 17-20, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21, 2 p.m.

“12 Angry Men.” Des Moines Playhouse. www.dmplayhouse.org.
Wednesday – Saturday, Feb. 17-20, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21, 2 p.m.
“Outside Mullingar.” StageWest, Kum & Go Theater. www.stagewestiowa.com.
Wednesday – Saturday, Feb. 17-20, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21, 2 p.m.

The moment is one of the best, and one of several when director John Viars turns this one-room drama of guys around a table into a kind of dance. Men pop up and down, clustering right or left, to the front or back, haggling over the guilt of a slum teenager accused of killing his father. The table itself rotates, a cool fillip of Kimberly Manuel’s thoughtful set. As the jurors wheel around, for the moment in their seats, it reflects their seesaw argument. Yet all their spins and leaps and shouting and grappling take place against monumental steel girders and industrial windows — suggesting jail, and worse, the electric chair.

The tension flags a bit in the second act. Maxwell Schaeffer has the role Henry Fonda made famous in the 1957 movie. His “Juror No. 8” first stands alone, defending the accused kid. At the Playhouse, the outcome between him and “No. 3,” hot for a guilty verdict, can feel inevitable. Jason Rainwater handles No. 3, shuddering with rage, but Schaeffer verges on the superhuman.

knifecloseupThe second act also features Jeff Rohrick, squared away in vest and bowtie, pacing carefully through his refutations of the defense arguments. Rohrick gives his character a gay affect, fascinating in contrast to Davenport’s fragile machismo. The villains are what win the case for this terrific night out.

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“Outside Mullingar,” at StageWest, will try out a staging no one has seen before. Tim Wisgherof’s set, so rustic that it smells of hay, includes both protagonists’ homes and the Irish countryside between them.

Director Todd Buchacker believes other versions use an ordinary arrangement. The curtain closes on one home at the end of a scene then opens on another for the next.

“Our approach,” says Buchacker, “is an environmental challenge.”fightcloseup

A parallel to the emotional challenge, in a play he and the cast agree “swings from laughter to tears.” The opening is set after a funeral, and in a late rehearsal over at the unused side of the stage, Kerry Skram sat in silent gloom. Yet across the way, the talk among the others at first proved full of laughs. Eventually, though, its melody went sour. Skram’s counterpart, Jonathan de Lima, erupted; his father didn’t appreciate what he’d done for the farm.

With that, John Partick Shanley’s script sets in motion a skittish courtship between the neighbors. Neither is young anymore, which makes their on-and-off romance “fascinating,” according to Skram.

“They have to deal with so many old pains,” she says.

Yet this long experience, she adds, allows for language that’s “unselfconsciously lovely.” The beauty of the dialog, she says, “never feels false.” Both Buchacker and de Lima call the overall effect “magical” — rather like late love. CV

John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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