A life in the balance at Surf City Theatre
Surf City Theatre goes on trial with “12 Angry Jurors”
by Bondo Wyszpolski
Did he stab his father to death? That’s the question being debated by 12 men and women who’d rather be anywhere else than in the courtroom. At first it looks like an open-and-shut case: Clearly the man is guilty! But one juror is unsure. Can he convince the other 11? Fat chance, but maybe he can. We’ll find out when the play by Reginald Rose, adapted for the stage in 1964 from his 1954 teleplay, opens this weekend at Surf City Theatre in Hermosa Beach. The director’s vision
Director Richard Perloff is well known over the hill, in San Pedro, where he often directs for or stars in shows produced by Little Fish Theatre. He was lured to Hermosa by his friend and colleague Diana Mann who had posted on Facebook, “Is there anybody out there interested in directing “12 Angry Men”?
And you raised your hand?
“I did,” Perloff replies, during a break in rehearsals. “Because I love the material, new company. I’m working with a completely different talent pool than I’ve become used to over the years.”
The play is quite often performed.
“Absolutely, because it’s a sturdy piece of theater. There are a million courtroom dramas (like “A Few Good Men,” which Surf City also produced), but I’m not aware of any other jury room dramas. This is kind of it because (Rose) really got at something essential about this weird process by which a jury achieves unanimity.”
Perloff selected the actors along with the company’s founder and executive producer Lisa Leonard.
“She sat alongside me at auditions. I would put the actors through their paces, and then in many instances I would turn to Lisa: Now give me the lowdown on this guy. Can he carry a show? Is he good in rehearsal? Are we going to be able to communicate well? And she steered me in the right direction.”
Originally the play was known as “12 Angry Men,” although in recent years, with a mixed gender cast, it’s now often staged as “jurors” instead of “men.” Did Perloff decide on a ratio of men to women before casting began?
“I thought I did,” he replies. “Originally I had in mind eight men and four women, and I knew exactly which four jurors I wanted to cast as females. And then, just based on what I got at auditions, we ended up with six and six. Just kind of the luck of the draw.”
Watching Perloff during rehearsals, it’s clear that he knows the material and is meticulous about eliciting from his actors precisely what he wants from them.
“That I reckon is my chief responsibility,” he replies. “I want to give actors as much latitude as I possibly can, but I have to know the material well enough to create a perimeter for them. Everything has to fit inside this basic framework which is my sense of how the play is most effective: my vision, to dredge up a tired cliché. I want the actors to contribute to that, and that’s what I’m doing; I’m trying to shape their performances accordingly to make the play as (effective) as it can be.” On stage, a dual presence
Let’s pull aside Juror #9 and see which way she’s leaning.
That would be Daryl France, who is neither male nor a country in Europe, as her name might indicate. In fact, she’s a former Torrance resident whose heart, she says, is “here in the South Bay.”
France is no Johnny or Joanie come lately.
“I started doing shows at PV Players; I did shows at the Norris. I’ve done shows at Little Fish and Torrance Theatre Company. I got my degree in theater, and at the same time I was also painting sets. They both go together for me.”
Remember Surf City Theatre’s productions of “Mousetrap” and “A Very Special Holiday Special”? Well, France employed her paints for those shows. “I’ve also painted sets down in Costa Mesa, La Mirada, and Santa Monica. I’m Have Paint Brush Will Travel.”
But let’s go back a few years. How did she end up in the unusual role as actor/set painter?
“I’d taken some acting classes,” France replies, “and then when I got into college they accidentally put me on a stage crew building sets because with my name Daryl they thought I was a guy.” From that point on, she continues, “I just kind of slid sideways into set painting and I did that all through my college years and I painted for summer stock and dinner theater.”
France says she’s never acted with anyone in the current show, although she knew Perloff because she’d painted sets for Little Fish in San Pedro. She has nothing but praise for the director (which clearly must help when said praise makes it into print).
“I really enjoy the way that Richard directs. He’ll see something and he’ll grab onto it, or (an actor) will give him an idea and he will run with it. I’m also very impressed with the rest of the cast. I could tell from the first read-through that people were putting their hearts into it.”
Richard Perloff reached out to Daniel Gallai because he needed a Juror #7, and “he asked me if I’d like to come in and give it a go, and so here we are.”
Did you think he wanted you to serve on jury duty, like maybe in downtown L.A.?
Gallai laughs. “No, I was pretty clear on it.”
This is his first time appearing with Surf City Theatre, although he’s been in shows at Little Fish and in the Hollywood area where he lives.
The acting bug first bit Gallai when he was up in Canada, where he was born. Then the family moved to Phoenix, and when it was time to attend college Gallai came to CalArts. “After I graduated I stayed in L.A. and have been working, producing films and doing theater ever since.”
Now he works at USC as an administrator. However, Gallai says, “Any day job is just a job to support my habit of being an actor. And I fill my free time with as much of it as I can, whether it’s making my own projects or participating with productions around town.”
He seems to have dug into his Juror #7 character and reached a conclusion: “He’s a jackass. Each character in the show has an archetype, and my character is like the self-involved, can’t be bothered with anyone else’s problems kind of guy. So he makes light of everything. He’s kind of a sleeze, kind of a slick guy who likes to crack jokes and not take anything too serious.
“So I’m having a blast, just being a jerk. That’s a lot of fun for me because I don’t get to do that (on stage) very often.”
As he says, it’s not the sort of role in which he finds himself.
“I do a lot of people who have deep existential crises,” Gallai says, pointing out both Shakespeare and Arthur Miller.
“Theater is the thing that makes me be alive,” he adds, while also indicating his love of film, a medium in which he’s both acted and produced. However, Gallai says he’s yet to find the satisfaction in film performance that he finds in theater performance.
And why is that? Because theater “is so immediate in your face live, right here, and the spontaneity of anything can happen in a given moment is very exciting. That’s what really draws me to this. Seeing the audience and feeding off of their reaction is also what really gets my gears going.”
12 Angry Jurors opens at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Surf City Theatre, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. Additional performances this Sunday at 2 p.m., plus Friday, Jan. 25, at 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 26, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 27, at 2 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 1, at 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 2, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sun., Feb. 3, at 2 p.m. Tickets, $28. Call (424) 241-8040 or go to surfcitytheatre.com. ER