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'Twelve Angry Men' Comes to Stratford High Stage

'It's a great ensemble show, and a story that's still relevant 50 years after it first was written,' says the director.

Generalizations about race, bullying, bigotry, racism, the responsibility of a citizen, the successes and failures of the American judicial system, and what is reasonable doubt -- these are all topics still hitting TV, Internet and print headlines.

In 1957, the iconic film "Twelve Angry Men" looked at these issues under the microscopic detail of a murder case jury deliberation. And from Nov. 15-17, the Stratford High School (SHS) Drama Society will present the stage version of the story.

"It's a great ensemble show, and a story that's still relevant 50 years after it first was written," said Kathie Murphy, director of the show. "Jeff (Leinen, producer for the show) and I were talking last spring about what to do for the fall show this year. We'd done comedies ("Cactus Flower" and "Noises Off") and last year a thriller ("Wait Until Dark"), and we wanted to do something a little different.

"I'd remembered seeing the production of the show by the Roundabout Theatre Company on Broadway and thought with the focus on the election, workings of American government, and the headlines hitting us every day, this would be a timely show."

The play examines the workings of a jury deliberating a homicide trail. At the start most of the jurors have decided on a finding of guilty, with one lone dissenter. As they debate, the jurors (who are never referred to by name) discover more about the personalities and backgrounds of their peers, reasonable doubt, the ability to collaborate, and the nature of underlying bigotry and racism.

"Twelve Angry Men" is by Reginald Rose, adapted from this 1954 teleplay. The theatrical version made its Broadway debut on October 28, 2004 by the Roundabout Theatre Company.

There is a challenge in presenting a play based on a movie that is so well-known and revered, especially with the expectation audience members may bring to the show, Murphy acknowledged.

"I haven't seen the movie in a long time, and I've stayed away from watching it just so I can form my own thoughts on the show. I do intend to watch it later. A lot of the students have watched the movie -- and it is shown in Civics class every year -- I'm fine with that because it may help them bring something to their roles that we hadn't considered."

One big difference with the SHS production is that the cast is composed of male and female actors (unlike the film which had no female characters). The majority of the cast in the show is made up of seniors, Murphy said. She added that these students were freshmen when she directed her first production at Stratford High School -- "Cactus Flower" -- and were in that show and many subsequent ones she's been involved with.

The cast includes: Guard -- Justin Mamone; Clerk -- Danielle Peterson; Foreman -- John Schultz; Two, -- Austin Bult; Three -- Jack Vallerie; Four -- Emily Barksdale; Five -- Benji Ruscoe; Six -- Samantha Tonan; Seven -- Brodey Ott; Eight -- DJ Porter; Nine -- Josie Ragland; Ten -- Nick Kovalik;  Eleven -- Brianna Rotonto; and Twelve -- Eric Pardo.

"I really like the strengths the students are bringing to their roles," Murphy said. She added that this show is a challenge to actors because each character is on stage for the entire production with no breaks. "It's sort of like running a marathon verses sprinting. The actors and actresses have to work at staying focused throughout the production, to react to whatever is being said, and hone the small nuances and quirks of their characters.

"There's also the difficulty that the entire show is set in one room around a table, which limits the physical actions of the actors." Murphy also mentioned how great it has been to see the students coaching each other and to see them growing into the roles and becoming more aware of what is going on around them in the show.

These details, along with an enduring script and the strong performances the student are perfecting, will result in a show has some very powerful moments -- from confrontations between characters to deeply uncomfortable silences, Murphy said. "I think the audience will appreciate what we're trying to do with this production," she added.

The Stratford High School Drama Society will present "Twelve Angry Men," Thursday, Nov. 15 @ 7:30 p.m..  Friday, Nov. 16, @ 7:30, and Saturday, Nov. 17 @ 7:30 in the school's John F. Kennedy Memorial Auditorium.

All tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door. Call 203.381.6909, extension 1234, or email shstickets@yahoo.com for advanced tickets.

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