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Jury Battles Toward a Verdict in ‘Twelve Angry Men’

The dramatic play, on now through Aug. 2, is DIJO Productions' most ambitious project yet.

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Ed Giron, right, shows Brian Harwell how to wield a murder weapon in Twelve Angry Men.

DIJO Productions has offered some of the most pungent, thought-provoking dramas of recent months (The Persians and The Trial of Mata Hari). Now, with the Virtual Theatre Company and the collaboration of the Santa Barbara City College Theatre Arts Department, it is gearing up for its most ambitious project yet: a two-week run of a new production of Reginald Rose‘s courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men (adapted by Sherman Sergel).

The Santa Barbara production will be directed by Katie Laris, with lighting and set design by Ted Dolas. The cast includes — in alphabetical order — Ben Chang, George Coe, Gene Garcia, Ed Giron, Brian Harwell, Mark Lee, Stuart Orenstein, Jerry Oshinsky, Clyde Sacks, Alfred St. John Smith, Wilson Smith, Bill Waxman and Tim Whitcomb.

The play will be performed in the round at the intimate Center Stage Theater on Wednesday through Aug. 2. The play previews Wednesday and Thursday and opens Friday. Tickets are $22 for general admission and $17 for previews, students and groups. Tickets are available online at www.centerstagetheater.org or by calling 805.963.0408.

Although it is a beautifully constructed play, Twelve Angry Men was not written for the theater but for the prestige TV drama anthology Westinghouse’s Studio One. Rose, who died in 2002, had been writing for television for four years when he was tapped for jury duty.

“It was such an impressive, solemn setting,” he recalled, “in a great big wood-paneled courtroom, with a silver-haired judge, it knocked me out. I was overwhelmed. I was on a jury for a manslaughter case, and we got into this terrific, furious, eight-hour argument in the jury room. I was writing one-hour dramas for Studio One then, and I thought, wow, what a setting for a drama.”

Originally broadcast in 1954, it has been on stage in one form or other since 1964, when actor Leo Genn made a success of it in London’s West End. Rose made several adaptations himself. Sidney Lumet made a spell-binding film of the teleplay in 1957, starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden and Ed Begley. William Friedkin directed a highly-regarded made-for-TV version in 1997, which starred George C. Scott, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ossie Davis, Jack Lemmon, James Gandolfini, Hume Cronyn and Edward James Olmos. In 2007, the greatest living Russian director, Nikita Mikahlkov, made a version called 12, set in Chechnia during the separatist war.

Juries are the ultimate ad-hoc committee; they reach a verdict in one case, and they are discharged. Eleven of the 12 jurors we meet in the jury room at the start of the play are eager to get their duty over with. The idea is to find the young man guilty of murder and go home. That is how they vote.

One of the jurors is of the opinion that the condition “beyond a reasonable doubt” has not been satisfied, and there are other things he has doubts about, too. He votes not guilty. Then begins a second trial in which the dissenting juror reviews nearly the entire case for the prosecution and argues for the defense. Gradually, he begins to attract converts.

Twelve Angry Men is the very definition of a tour de force. It’s not to be missed.

Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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