Advertisement for Rustaveli Theatre’s production of 12 Angry Men

Twelve Angry Men / თორმეტი განრისხებული მამაკაცი

performed by the Rustaveli Theatre Company in the Rustaveli Theatre

Reginald Rose’s “12 Angry Men” is one of my favorite plays–I read it for the first time in 10th Grade English class. In college, I wrote one of my most fun political science papers on the effects of jury decision rules on trial outcomes, and used the play as an example. I loved the version of it on the TV show Veronica Mars, and thought Nikita Mikhalkov’s Russian version, 12, was fantastic. I’d never seen a stage version, though. So when I walked past the Rustaveli Theatre one day last spring and saw a banner for a play that appeared to be “12 Angry Men” I was excited. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it that performance, and then there was another schedule conflict, and then it was no longer listed on their website, and then it was summer holiday, and then and then and then. But last week, as I was cruising to buy tickets for Gone Girl, I clicked on the Rustaveli Theatre section on a whim, saw that there was another performance that weekend, snapped up some tickets, and saved worrying about details like finding someone to accompany me for later.

Rustaveli Theatre’s production was mostly just a translation of the original play with little Georgian adaptation (My Georgian-speaking theatre buddy, who is familiar with the original, confirms). I couldn’t actually tell if the play was meant to be set in Georgia or in the US, though that confusion could be due to my language skills rather than the production. There were a few times that the cast started dancing that I presume were not in the original, but that seemed very natural given that the actors were all speaking Georgian–I have known Georgians to begin dancing at the drop of a hat.

One major change I noticed was in Juror 5 (in the original a “young man from the wrong side of the tracks”), who is played in this version as crazy (and over-acted), and is the character responsible for many of the outbursts into dance.  I didn’t really understand the insertion of a “crazy” character–it didn’t seem to add much, and the realist side of me was confused by the presence of someone clearly mentally unstable on a jury–the lawyers trying the case would clearly never let that happen. My other criticism is of the set–I’m not sure exactly what they were intending to do; it looked like the jury room was half a jury room, and half a gymnasium, and I found it distracting. I spent quite a bit of time pondering what the set was supposed to be, and wasn’t able to concentrate on what was happening on stage. The acting, with the exception mentioned above, was excellent, and the staging was just what I expected. I think the play was over-all well done.

The Rustaveli Theatre itself is beautiful, and worth going into to see. I also noticed that it’s in a much better state of repair then many of the theatres I went to in London’s West End (I was a bit of a cheap theatre junkie on my year abroad), and the chairs were normal. Most people even turned off their phones when prompted to do so, and the show was only interrupted with a chirp once or twice. That’s better than I can say for the classes I teach… I was also struck that the audience didn’t seem to have an upper-class vibe. It felt that the theatre was accessible to everyone–though there were people dressed up for a night out, I didn’t feel out of place despite being grubby and in jeans from moving earlier that day. Ticket prices at the theatre are in the 6-12 lari range, so it’s an affordable treat for many people.

Of course many are interested in the “language question”. The play was entirely in Georgian, with no subtitles or language assistance. It was not intended as a tourist attraction. As a non-native speaker, it might not have been the best idea to see a “talking play” without a lot of action, because it was at times difficult to keep track of what was happening, but because I know the plot so well, I was able to follow without much trouble. I would recommend the play to others with a similar language ability or familiarity with the play, but I don’t know if it would be much fun to just watch.

I also found the play interesting due to the general lack of jury trials in Georgia. Jury trials were just introduced for the first time in 2011, and though they have expanded, they are only available in Tbilisi for certain crimes, and the defendant has the choice of a jury or bench trial. Jury trials are not part of the culture the way the are in the US, which I imagine changes the Georgian audience’s perception of the events onstage.

There don’t appear to be any more performances scheduled in the near future, but the play remains part of the company’s repertoire. You can look for future information here.

“Trailer” for the play