The courtroom drama “12 Angry Men” has undergone many different adaptations on the stage and screen since it debuted more than 60 years ago. But for the Pulaski Fine Arts Association production and its director, Maria Whittaker, nothing quite compares to the original, which featured an all-male cast.
Finding adult male actors can be challenging for small community-theater productions, let alone one that requires 14 separate parts. But for Whittaker, meeting that challenge has been worth it.
“It’s a classic,” Whittaker said of the play, written by Reginald Rose in the early 1950s. “Finding the actors was very hard, but we got the word out early, and I kept talking to people.”
The PFAA production of “12 Angry Men” will open at 7:30 p.m. March 8 and 9 at the Theater on the Square in downtown Waynesville. Additional performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. March 15, 16, 22 and 23, with a matinee performance scheduled for 3 p.m. March 17.
First presented as a teleplay in 1954, “12 Angry Men” was made into a well-known Academy-award-nominated movie in 1957. The story follows a group of jurors weighing a murder case involving a 16-year-old boy from the slums who is accused of murdering his father with a knife. At first, all but one juror vote to convict the defendant.
“Eleven jurors vote guilty; one says ‘not guilty.’ Throughout the play, he slowly tries to change the others’ minds,” Whittaker said. “It’s about having the courage to stand up for what’s right, to have the courage to speak out and defend others who aren’t able to defend themselves.”
Whittaker said she has been a fan of the play since high school.
“In drama class there were excerpts (from this play) that we acted out. It just really struck me, and I always said to myself that if I ever directed theater, this is the play I wanted to do — and (PFAA) let me do it,” Whittaker added.
While some productions feature a mix of male and female actors under titles such as “12 Angry Jurors,” Whittaker said she “really wanted to do this as ‘12 Angry Men.’”
“At the time this was written, women did serve on juries, but it wasn’t common at all. I wanted to keep the artistic integrity of the author intact,” she said
The jurors — who have numbers but aren’t named in the play — approach the case with their own unique backgrounds, personalities and prejudices on display.
The initial dissenting juror — Juror No. 8 — is an architect who holds reservations about the trial and is played by Dana Wheatley. Jason Wardell plays Juror No. 1, a high-school football coach who serves as the jury’s foreman. Jeremy Johnson plays Juror No. 2, a shy bank clerk. Jay Whittaker plays Juror No. 3, a hardened businessman. Thomas Fink plays Juror No. 4, a stockbroker who values facts and logic. Dylan Balestraci plays Juror No. 5, a hospital worker who also grew up in the city’s slums. Craig Phillips plays Juror No. 6, a house painter. Anthony Radice plays Juror No. 7, a salesman in a hurry for the trial to end. Robert Johnson plays Juror No. 9, a retiree. Russell Marshall plays Juror No. 10, who makes no secret of his deeply held prejudices. Stephen Woolsey plays Juror No. 11, an immigrant watchmaker. Curtis Wood plays Juror No. 12, a marketing executive obsessed with his job. Rounding out the cast are James Blount, who plays the guard, and Bob Hooper, who is the narrator of the play.
The crew includes assistant director Toni Rowland, stage manager April Marshall and sound and stage art by Janet Rozmiarek.
Tickets for “12 Angry Men are $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 12 and younger. Advance tickets are available at the Pulaski County Tourism Bureau in St. Robert and at Lone Oak Printing in Waynesville, or by calling 573.528.4164.