Syracuse Stage presents the classic American courtroom drama ‘Twelve Angry Men’

Syracuse, NY – Courtroom drama at its best fills the stage as the American classic “Twelve Angry Men” continues the 2019/2020 Syracuse Stage season, Oct. 9 – 27.

Set in 1957 in the jury room of a New York City courthouse, Reginald Rose’s absorbing drama unfolds on a sweltering afternoon as a jury of 12 men decide the fate of a teenager accused of murdering his father.  For 11, the verdict is quick and easy—guilty. For one, there is enough doubt to warrant further questioning.

“We’re talking about somebody’s life here,” he says. “I mean, we can’t take five minutes. Suppose we’re wrong?”

What ensues over a taut 90 minutes of well-honed dialogue and superb performance is a confrontation filled with shifting perspectives and alliances, revelations and admissions that expose the jurors’ passions, prejudices and human failings. With the stakes as high as a young man’s life, the jury room becomes a pressurized chamber of tension and volatility, as one by one the 11 jurors reconsider their hasty preliminary conclusion.

 “Twelve Angry Men” is a classic example of well-constructed and carefully crafted drama from the mid-20th century. It first appeared as a live teleplay in 1954, and then in 1957 was made into the more widely known film version starring Henry Fonda as Juror Eight, the initial hold-out against the quick verdict. While clearly rooted in that time, the stage version finds resonance with the world today.

“Obviously the play deals in issues of racism and prejudice, which could not be more contemporary, sadly,” says James Still who directs the production for Syracuse Stage. Still notes that in essence the play is a difficult conversation that the 12 jurors, who are never named and are strangers to each other, are forced to have. The way they negotiate their responsibilities as jurors, he explains, could be instructive in the current polarized political climate.

”The jurors are forced into a dialogue, and I hope whatever political allegiance people hold in 2019, they could agree with me that we could use more dialogue today,” Still says. “For me the play is so much about point of view and shifting points of view. It addresses the nature of compromise. How do you compromise? How do you compromise and feel ethically good about it, feel that you’ve done the right thing?”

Very much at play, as well, is the reticence some jurors exhibit in the deliberations. Still points out that the jury room is a small space that starts to feel claustrophobic, and for most of the time, all of the actors are present on stage.

“The play is about what happens around that table. We get to see how people are responding when they don’t speak up. That’s the story. That’s not secondary,” he says.

In the end, however, Still finds optimism in the play because the experience of witnessing this very hard conversation can encourage a kind of self-reflection much needed today.

“Watching these 12 jurors work through biases, personal histories and snap judgments, and in some cases discomfort with the role they’ve been asked to play as decision makers, watching them work through all of that I think is potentially instructive,” the director says. “It allows us to ask ourselves, what would I do in that situation? What should I be doing now in my own situation?”

The pairing of “Twelve Angry Men,” with its jury of 12 white men, and Stage’s first show, the world premiere of Keenan Scott II’s “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” was a deliberate dramaturgical choice by Artistic Director Robert Hupp.

Robert Hupp

“The male characters in ‘Twelve Angry Men,’ and the values they embody, live in contrast to the seven men in ‘Thoughts of a Colored Man.’ The adjacency is dramaturgically intentional,” Hupp said.  “‘Twelve Angry Men’ has been subjected to many updates and modernizations, but we thought the play spoke most clearly in its original structure: a room full of white men holding the life of a nameless young man, presumably a young man of color, in their hands. Taken together, ‘Thoughts of a Colored Man’ and ‘Twelve Angry Men’ force us to confront how much some things haven’t changed. Couldn’t any of the characters in ‘Thoughts of a Colored Man’ be the nameless man on trial in ‘Twelve Angry Men?’”

As with “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” Stage will partner with various community and Syracuse University organizations to present events related to the production of “Twelve Angry Men.” Among these are a panel discussion on race in the American judicial system, “How the Unheard Defendant in Twelve Angry Men Speaks to Our Now,” which is part of the Syracuse University Humanities Center Fall 2019 Syracuse Symposium titled “silence.” The event follows the Oct. 13 matinee performance. Other community partnerships include the Central New York Women’s Bar Association, William Herbert Johnson Bar Association of CNY, Onondaga County Bar Association, Hiscock Legal Aid Society and Generation Next.

Twelve Angry Men

By Reginald Rose
Directed by James Still

Scenic and Costume Design by Junghyun Georgia Lee
Lighting Design by Michelle Habeck
Sound Design by Todd Mack Reischman
Dramaturg: Richard J Roberts
Production Stage Manager: Stuart Plymesser*
Casting: Claire Simon CSA
Co-produced with Indiana Repertory Theatre


Special Events

Oct. 9              Pay-What-You-Will Performance @ 7:30 p.m.

There will be 76 tickets available for whatever price patrons wish to pay. Pay-what-you-will tickets must be claimed in person at the Box Office on the day of the performance, subject to availability. The Box Office opens at 10 a.m. and will remain open until the start of the show. There is a limit of two tickets per person.

Oct. 11             Opening Night Party (free for ticket holders)

Join the cast for a post-show celebration with live music presented by CNY Jazz, featuring Melody Rose and Andrew Carroll, food and drinks.

Oct. 13             Prologue at 1 p.m. (free for ticket holders)

An intimate, pre-show discussion with “Twelve Angry Men” actors one hour prior to curtain. Prologues will be held in the Archbold Theatre.

Syracuse Symposium at 3:45 p.m.

This event is free and open to the public.

In conjunction with “Twelve Angry Men,” a panel of criminal justice scholars and theatre artists will engage issues of justice, identity and marginalized/silent voices to consider how the 1950s jury room-drama remains a relevant point of departure for interrogating the corrupting roles of bias, prejudice and silence in our justice system today. Panelists include Lanessa L. Chaplin, Esq., Project Counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union and Todd A. Berger and Sanjay Chhablani, professors at the Syracuse University College of Law.

Actor Talkback (free for ticket holders)

A Q&A session with the actors following the 7:30 p.m. performance. The talkback will be held in the Archbold Theatre.

Oct. 16             Wednesday @ 1 Discussion (free for ticket holders)

Join Professor Todd A. Berger, Director of Advocacy Programs at Syracuse University’s Falk College of Law, for a deeper look into “Twelve Angry Men.” Berger’s scholarship is concentrated in criminal law and procedure, as well as the intersection of trial advocacy and attorney ethics.

 Open Captioning at 2 p.m. Performance for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Oct. 17             Happy Hour at 6 p.m. (free for ticket holders)

Enjoy complimentary light fare from local restaurants, half-priced drinks and $5 drink specials at the bar.

Oct. 19            Prologue at 1 p.m. (free for ticket holders)

An intimate, pre-show discussion with “Twelve Angry Men” actors one hour prior to curtain. Prologues will be held in the Archbold Theatre.

ASL Interpreted Performance at 2 p.m. for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Oct. 23            Dinner & Show ($60, includes dinner and show admission)

Enjoy a buffet dinner at 6 p.m. with fellow theatre lovers in the Sutton Pavilion. Seasonal fare prepared by Phoebe’s Restaurant followed by great theatre.

Oct. 24             Prologue at 6:30 p.m. (free for ticket holders)

An intimate, pre-show discussion with “Twelve Angry Men” actors one hour prior to curtain. Prologues will be held in the Archbold Theatre.

Oct. 25             Last Call

The Syracuse Stage bar will remain open after the show. Mix and mingle with fellow patrons—the perfect chance to chat about the show!

Oct. 26             Audio Described Performance at 2 p.m. for patrons who are blind or visually impaired.

Open Captioning at 7:30 p.m. performance for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Oct. 27            Open Captioning at 2 p.m. performance for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing.