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Arts and Entertainment

Now Playing: 11 Angry Men...and Norm!

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It's hard to live in Los Angeles and not be a sucker for a good courtroom drama, particularly the televised kind. And chances are, if you’re a Gen Xer, you’re already very familiar with Twelve Angry Men. That’s because the classic 1957 Sidney Lumet film (adapted from the 1954 television show) was a standard in most American classrooms. You know the story: place twelve white men in a jury room, put the life of a minority in their hands, insert one passionate dissenter and watch the madness ensue.

Twelve Angry Men has visited the stage many times; it's single-room setting seems to be perfect for the proscenium. There have even been some attempts to make the story more contemporary (hello, multicultural jury!). We prefer the original, white-rage version, which is currently running at the Ahmanson with a largely unknown cast...and Norm from Cheers!

But don't get too excited. Anyone hoping to see America's favorite bar patron going on an anti-immigrant tirade should table the thought, as actor George Wendt plays the relatively minor role of Juror One (the foreman). He calls the meeting to order, he calls for votes, he wonders why Dancing With the Stars called John Ratzenberger and not him. Well, the last part isn't true, but it's what we'd be doing if we were him.

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The meaty role goes to veteran television actor Richard Thomas, who plays the lone dissenting voice (Juror Eight) who has to convince his peers that a Latino teenager accused of murder does not deserve the death penalty. As familiar as the story is, the actors do a fine job of injecting passion and, surprisingly, humor into the performance. It's hard not to giggle when one of the jurors who came from the same ghettoes as the unseen defendent passionately explains how a "switchblade expert" would have to stab his opponent.

However, other than some dated dialogue and props, it's stunning just how contemporary the play still feels. It's not far-fetched to believe the attitudes and hang-ups of the fictional jurors wouldn't be mirrored in an Orange County jury today, and that's a pretty sobering thought.

Twelve Angry Men is playing at the Ahmanson Theatre through May 6. It's a worthwhile excursion, particularly if you haven't been downtown to the Ahmanson lately. ADD sufferers will be happy to know that the play clocks in at a brisk 90 minutes, with no intermissions.