BY CARY GINELL
One of the more enthusiastic and – might I add – accessible performers on the Ventura County scene is Barry Pearl. Although based in Los Angeles, Pearl has proved to be a versatile character actor in a variety of roles, but more importantly, is an enthusiastic supporter of community theater and is always eager to offer his expertise and advice to young actors. He appeared as Nathan Detroit in two different production of Cabrillo Music Theatre’s “Guys and Dolls,” the most recent in 2009. In earlier Cabrillo shows, he appeared as Harry McAfee in “Bye, Bye Birdie” and Moonface Martin in “Anything Goes.” In 2010, he performed in Musical Theatre Guild’s production of “Irma La Douce,” and earlier this year, directed Cabrillo’s successful production of “Grease.” (Pearl played Doody in the 1978 film.) This week, Pearl began performing as Juror No. 7 in the Pasadena Playhouse’s acclaimed production of Reginald Rose’s taut play, “12 Angry Men.”
The play takes place entirely in a jury room, as 12 male jurors debate the case they had just heard, about a Hispanic teenager who is accused of killing his father. “12 Angry Men” was created for a Studio One teleplay on CBS in 1954 and then became a motion picture in 1957, starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, and a cast of immortal character actors. Jack Warden played Juror No. 7, the character Pearl was charged with playing.
I spoke with Pearl prior to the show’s opening last weekend.
VCOS: Have you done “12 Angry Men” before?
BARRY: This is my first time, and quite honestly, I never thought about doing it before. Most things I am cast in are surprises. There are those that I’ve always wanted to do , but this was not on the bucket list. But when it came up, it made a whole lot of sense. It was an offer. I didn’t go out and read for this. Which is quite wonderful because it doesn’t always happen. When it does, it kind of drops out of the sky and it came at a really good time. There were two other jobs that I had auditioned for and they didn’t happen, so it was the proverbial door closing and another opening.
VCOS: Were you selected specifically for Juror No. 7? What do we know about him?
BARRY: Yes. There isn’t a whole lot known about this particular juror, other than the fact that he is a huge baseball fan and he has tickets to the Yankees/Cleveland game that night that he needs to get to. And, of course, this trial is preventing him from doing so. We don’t know what his vocation is – you never know anybody’s name in the play – all we know is that he’s in a hurry to get out of there. Most of my lines are in baseball terms; there are lines that the character has like I say that the kid who is accused is already “O for 5” because he has five prior arrests. He is referred to by some of the other jurors simply as “Baseball.” “Hey, Baseball, if you’re not going to be serious about this, then shut up.” So in some of my ad libs, I use a lot of baseball terms as well. I believe he probably lives alone and since the play doesn’t tell what he does for living, I’ve chosen to make him a doorman who is at present, out of a job. He’s been replaced by automation, so he’s unemployed and saved up his money to buy this ticket to see the Yankees.
VOCS: The original play took place when it was written, in the 1950s. What about this version?
BARRY: It’s current day, but we don’t hit you over the head with it. You don’t see any cell phones or iPads, but they’ve updated it slightly. There are also some slight adjustments to the language to make it a bit more racy than what it was initially.
VCOS: Aside from the obvious bigots on the jury, Juror No. 7 is detestable as well because he doesn’t have any convictions; he just wants to do what’s expedient to finish the deliberations.
BARRY: No. 7 has a racist thread running through him as well and I align myself with Juror No. 10, who is the most racist of them all, up to a point, where even I can’t associate myself with him because he’s so despicable.
VCOS: Director Sheldon Epps has decided to make the jury racially divided, with six whites and six blacks. Has it ever been done this way before?
BARRY: No, it never has been.
VCOS: It seems like a natural for this play.
BARRY: Doesn’t it, though? I don’t know why it’s never been done before. Sheldon has vision. Maybe it’s because it was something people just didn’t want to touch because it was too hot-button. But it is so relevant. So amazingly relevant. When I told you that were some alterations, Sheldon has taken out the scenes in the bathroom, so everything takes place in the jury room. So we don’t move away into the men’s room to have those discussions.
VCOS: “12 Angry Men” is easier to film than to stage because on film, you have the advantage of having multiple cameras to get everybody’s faces, but on stage, there always has to be somebody who has their back to the audience. How do you get around that?
BARRY: As a matter of fact, I choose to turn my back to the audience a lot. I rather like that. I was having a conversation about this with the guy who plays Juror 3, Greg North. He and I carpool to the theater. Sometimes I will purposely turn upstage because it looks to my mind’s eye that it would be natural to do so. We don’t walk around in our lives in proscenium. We walk around in the round. (laughs). But I do that on purpose and Sheldon liked it. The staging process was so gentle, so natural. We sat around the table and discussed the play every day during the first week of rehearsal. There was a lot of discussion before we ever got into reading anything. We didn’t get up on our feet until the third or fourth day. And then he kind of naturally let it happen. He did not have to direct traffic; it all fell in place on its own, and then he’d fine tune it when we’d get on stage. Sheldon and I have worked together before, when we did “Baby, It’s You,” which he was co-directing. He’s quite something. He lets it evolve very naturally.
VCOS: So he doesn’t object to ad-libbing?
BARRY: On the contrary, he welcomes it. We have twelve actors who have great instincts. So Sheldon placed his best feet forward here, if you will, casting us. His paints are quite brilliant and we don’t overstep anything. It’s quite a gathering of actors.
VCOS: How is it working with this cast?
BARRY: At the end of the show, you can’t get us guys to leave the theater. And when we do, we immediately go to a watering hole somewhere because we’ve come to love each other’s company. It’s really a phenomenon, because you’d think that there would be 12 disparate egos in one room and they’d get at each other’s throats, just like a real jury. But that’s not the case here, and it’s really terrific.
“12 Angry Men” plays at the Pasadena Playhouse through December 1. Go see Barry Pearl eventually make the “right” decision.