Weekender

Nittany Theatre’s ‘12 Angry Men’ features women in traditionally all-male cast

Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s “12 Angry Men” opens Tuesday.
Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s “12 Angry Men” opens Tuesday. Photo provided

Nittany Theatre at the Barn in Boalsburg continues its second summer season of plays with the classic drama, “12 Angry Men,” opening Tuesday and running until June 25.

Adapted from the 1954 CBS teleplay of the same title, “12 Angry Men” is a classic Broadway courtroom drama, in which the life of a young man hangs in the hands of a divided jury. The mandatory sentence for the accused is the death penalty, making this drama all the more relevant for contemporary audiences. Issues of difficult familial relationships, racism and violence keep the audience on its toes throughout this fast-paced piece.

The play was later adapted for the stage, and in 1957 was made into a highly successful film. Since then, it has been given numerous remakes, adaptations and tributes.

Reginald Rose’s classic play is directed by Darcy Evans and features the 12 Jurors — played by Kevin Davis, Adam Hunter, Laura Ann Saxe, Ben Whitesell, Jonathan Savage, Taylor Granger, Stephanie Koller, Kristine Allen, Priscilla McFerren, Charlie Wilson, Stephen Hill and Samantha Faller.

This Nittany Theatre production is different from the movie and the original stage version in that women have been cast as half of the “12 Angry Men,” creating a more realistic and relatable jury.

“We’ve moved the period from 1957 to 1965, to facilitate this concept,” director Darcy Evans said. “Women were allowed to serve on juries in New York State in 1957 but could be excluded from serving for any number of reasons until 1975. Audiences are going to be blown away by the performances of Kristine Allen and Laura Saxe as they battle to persuade the rest of the jury to vote guilty or not guilty.”

In preparation for the play, Evans started with research into the period during which the play is set. In this case, he looked at classic courtroom dramas from “To Kill a Mockingbird” to “Perry Mason,” and “Law & Order.”

“I like to get the show staged and up on its feet quickly so that we can dig into playing with different interpretations of moments in the script,” he said. “The process of working with this cast has been fantastic. They are a wonderfully talented and diverse group.”

Evans has been a professional actor and director for more than 20 years. His permanent residence is in Canada, where the biggest influence on his career has come from nine seasons working at The Stratford Festival, North America’s largest classical repertory company. He has also worked on Broadway, national tours and at regional theaters across North America.

The play focuses on a jury’s deliberations in a capital murder case, where a 12-member jury is sent to begin deliberations in the first-degree murder trial of an 18-year-old man accused in the stabbing death of his father. A guilty verdict means an automatic death sentence. As the case appears to be open-and-shut, 11 of the jurors immediately vote guilty; only Juror No. 8 casts a not guilty vote.

Allen is cast in the role of Juror No. 8 and admires her for her passion for justice, attention to detail and respect for others.

“She’s very smart and fights hard for justice to be done, but also defends jurors who are insulted by others,” she said. “She listens respectfully to arguments she disagrees with, and even encourages them. She wants an honest and comprehensive debate on the case, and she also notices details about the case that even the lawyers have missed.”

Allen is the program director of WPSU-FM, but she has been doing community theater for many years. Some of her favorite roles have included Constanze in “Amadeus,” Gwendolyn in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Babe in “Crimes of the Heart” and Amanda in “The Glass Menagerie.”

For Allen, the preparation for the show has been very difficult but at the same time very rewarding.

“There are so many levels to this character and this play,” she said. “I keep discovering new ideas about what Juror No. 8’s intentions are in a given moment. She’s masterful at dealing with people, and at making her case.”

In his mind, Evans finds it very interesting to see how people, who have no connection, are locked in a room and forced to figure out how to work together — that it reminds us of a gentler and civil time where public service was taken seriously and considered an important right of being a citizen.

Evans hopes to tell an exciting and suspenseful story that keeps the audience guessing as to whether the defendant will be found guilty or not guilty.

“The show says a lot about prejudice, how harmful it can be and how important it is to call it out,” Allen said. “I hope it reminds us all to pay close attention to our own judgments. Are they logical and fair? Or do we jump too quickly to conclusions?”

IF YOU GO

  • What: “12 Angry Men”
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-June 11, 15-18 and 22-25; 2 p.m. June 12, 19,
  • Where: Nittany Theatre at the Barn, 300 Old Boalsburg Road, Boalsburg
  • Info: nittanytheatre.org
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