By: Jason Sheppard
A local theater company is introducing the 60 year old play to new audiences, demonstrating that its themes couldn’t be more timely
If you went to school in Newfoundland, chances are you have read Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men at one point.
If you had a cool English teacher, you very well might have even been shown the 1957 film by legendary director Sidney Lumet. Not everyone has seen it performed live on stage however, but starting Nov. 6, local audiences will get that chance.
Finding the 12
Fabian O’Keefe of School Zone Productions (now in its 30th year) has adapted the play to run for five nights in November and he says that despite its reputation, it’s a play that is rarely performed locally.
“We couldn’t find anybody who’s seen a production of it,” O’Keefe shared.
“The closest we got was a production 40 years ago in Halifax but to our knowledge, there has not been a professional or amateur production locally,” O’Keefe added.
“One of the challenges is because it requires a cast of 12. Everybody has to be on stage for the entire thing and that’s challenging because professionally it’s difficult to pay 12 actors and it’s difficult to get actors to attend six weeks of rehearsals,” O’Keefe told The Herald.
Fortunately, however, he found 12 unique actors who wanted to give their talent and time to the project. They are Simon Marshall, Andrew Halliday, Ashley Billard, Chris Panting, Tim Walsh, Rodney Squires, George Robertson, Brad Stone, Morris Hodder, Norm Karlik, Bob Shouman, and James Leblanc.
O’Keefe insisted that six weeks of rehearsal is key to discovering the play’s intensity and emotion.
”I can understand why actors or directors would just say it’s not worth the trouble,” he confessed. “But when it does work, it can be dynamic.”
Case-in-point according to O’Keefe is the fact that their production of 12 Angry Men, staged at the NL Government Drama Festival last year, won a number of awards including best supporting actor (Gord Ralph), O’Keefe for best director and The Newfoundland Herald’s own Audience Appreciation Award.
The play first ran locally in early 2017 – just after U.S. president Donald Trump’s inauguration, which according to O’Keefe, was not coincidental. Neither is the timing for this fall’s run.
Timing is Everything
“We thought with the American mid-term elections coming up, it might be nice to have that as the excuse to stage it again,” O’Keefe revealed. In fact, their opening night, Nov. 6, is the night of the U.S. mid-terms.
“The reason it plays to that is the text of the play focuses on the ability of a group of people to give up their differences and their biases and their prejudice’s and resort to reason. The state of politics in the U.S. in general shows that that’s a big challenge. Extremism is negative to our culture and society and when we’re prepared to be open-minded and to have our positions questioned, only then are we able to grow in any degree.”
O’Keefe first encountered the 1957 play about 12 guys in New York City when he was a student at St. Teresa’s School in 1972.
“It was about these people involved in deciding the fate of someone who has been tried for murder and although the stakes are high – they’re not necessarily high for any of the participants. The stakes are high for someone actually outside of the play,” he remembered.
O’Keefe admitted his production today offers one minor change – instead of the original immigrant in the play be a European, here he is from the Middle-East, mostly because this issue is so relevant in Canada right now. O’Keefe and his team believe plays such as this one lend themselves to academic exercises.
School Zone Productions, which O’Keefe runs, often works with material which they feel can be used as an educational tool.
“This play brings up some issues that deal with immigration and prejudices connected to that.”
‘A lot of Vibrancy’
One other difference between the classic movie and the play: the audience gets to see all 12 performers at the same time all throughout.
“It’s not just 12 guys sitting around a table,” O’Keefe promised. “There is a lot of movement and a lot of vibrancy.”
This makes the Barbara Barrett Theatre such an ideal place to showcase such a play as there’s an intimacy in that theater which plays well to audiences.So even while 12 Angry Men takes place in a different place and time from Newfoundland in 2018, the themes of trying to see another person’s point-of-view then and now, remain one and the same.
For more information on purchasing tickets for 12 Angry Men, visit artsandculturecenter.com or call 739- 3099