It's been awhile since Americans have been glued to their television sets watching nail-biting courtroom trials like that of, say, O.J. Simpson, Ted Bundy or Casey Anthony.
Even so, fascination with the inner workings of a trial — the accused, the witnesses, the judge, the jury — remains steady, which may account for the devoted fans of Twelve Angry Men, the 1954 teleplay set inside a jury deliberation room.
Playwright Reginald Rose's fictional telling was made into a movie in 1957 and a television movie again in 1997 and hit Broadway in 2004. Since then, it's become an amateur and professional theater favorite, sometimes done as Twelve Angry Jurors with both men and women in the jury room.
Stage West Community Playhouse will present the all-male version Sept. 15 to 18 and 23 to 25 in the intimate Forum theater. Directed by multi-HAMI winner Paul Wade, who himself has performed a lead role in an earlier production of the play in Pasco County, it features nine HAMI winners, the winner of Creative Loafing's Best of the Bay Best Actor award, two actors who have performed in the play elsewhere, and a theater newcomer who plays the jury room guard (Patrick Caropeppe).
In the play, a 19-year-old man, who is never seen, has been accused of murdering his father. It looks like an easy conviction. After all, several reliable witnesses have come forward, including a woman who claims to have watched the murder with her own eyes.
Another says he himself sold the murder weapon to the young man. And, perhaps most convincing, the accused has a criminal record and was known to have had shouting matches with his father.
Indeed, this should be a quick, easy decision for the 12 jurors.
Except that Juror No. 8 (Sam Petricone, HAMI as Ali Hakim in Oklahoma!) has a reasonable doubt. Nothing solid, just a feeling that a rush to judgment doesn't feel right to him.
Thus begins a long night of anger, quarrels, arguments and examinations of the personal conflicts and motives of the 12 men holding the life — a guilty verdict will mean the electric chair — of the 19-year-old in their hands.
Juror No. 8 doesn't find receptive ears to his doubts. The most vicious is Juror No. 10 (Pete Clapsis, HAMI as Pseudolus in Funny/Forum), a loudmouthed bigot spoiling for a fight. And there's Juror No. 3 (Dennis Duggan, Creative Loafing's Best Actor), the most cynical and vocal of the men, resolutely convinced of the defendant's guilt and not willing to budge an inch.
In between these extremes are Juror No. 1 (Mark Dunham), a serious, non-confrontational man who is quickly elected to be foreman of the jury; Juror No. 5 (Thomas Garton), who doesn't want to express an opinion either way; Juror No. 2 (David Stenger, HAMI as Moonfaced in Anything Goes), so timid he will just go along with the crowd; Juror No. 11 (Dalton Benson, HAMI as Edna in Hairspray), a refugee from Europe who has been the victim of injustice and doesn't want to perpetuate another by convicting an innocent man or releasing a guilty one; Juror No. 9 (Maurice Batista, HAMI as Judge in Harvey), a mild, gentle man who is horrified by Juror No. 10's open bigotry; Juror No. 6 (Chris Huber, HAMI as the Rev. Lee in The Foreigner), who is reluctant to see the good in anyone; Juror No. 12 (Bill Dimmitt, HAMI as Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady), an arrogant, impatient advertising executive who just wants to vote, get it over with and go back to his business and social life; Juror No. 4 (Sam McCall, HAMI as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird), an articulate, logical stockbroker who needs to be thoroughly convinced before he makes each decision; and Juror No. 7 (Jay Ingle, HAMI as Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), who just wants to get it over with so he won't be late to his baseball game.
It's an intriguing look at what might go on behind the closed doors of a jury room. The dialogue is intense, most suited for ages 13 and older.