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"12 Angry Men" take the stage in Cottage Grove

More than half-century since its debut, “12 Angry Men” keeps getting summoned for jury duty.

It would be perfectly reasonable to doubt the relevance of this warhorse, a somewhat hammy melodrama about a stalemate among jurors at a murder trial.

Yet the play’s themes — about the folly of rushing to judgement, and the degree to which race and class can stack the deck against a defendant — has resonated with future generations.

Originally written as a teleplay for a 1954 CBS program titled “Studio One in Hollywood,” it spawned three movies, a Broadway run in 2004 and countless high school and community theater productions.

Audiences are invited to weigh the evidence when Locally Grown Theatre presents “12 Angry Men” this weekend and the next at Newport United Methodist Church. The church fellowship hall will substitute as the jury room, and seating will be configured around the table where the jurors deliberate.

“I like to think of the audience as a fly on the wall in the jury room,” director Tyler Haines said.

Playwright Reginald Rose sets the action on a sweltering day in New York City. A young Hispanic man has been charged with fatally stabbing his father. Eleven of the jurors vote for a guilty verdict. But a lone holdout, Juror No. 8, questions the evidence.

Getting picked for this jury has long been a dream of J.P. Barone, who plays Juror No. 4. The just-retired Minnesota assistant attorney general said there are certain plays most lawyers would kill to act in. They’re used to arguing and audiences, after all.

“For lawyers, ‘12 Angry Men,’ ‘Inherit the Wind,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird” — they’re the iconic plays,” said Barone, who lives in White Bear Lake.

While his character uses logic to justify his guilty vote, he’s appalled at the reasoning of others who vote the same way.

“One guy is misguided by a family relationship,” he said. “The other one is a blatant racist.”

Shy Juror No. 5 (Park High School graduate Troy Lowry), turns out to have things in common with the accused. Juror No. 10. (Colin Koll Healey) is a rageaholic racist, while shallow Juror No. 7, (Pete Potyondy) doesn’t seem to care which way they vote so long as they finish in time for him to catch the Indians-Yankees baseball game.

“Since 8th grade when I read this play I wanted to be juror No. 7,” said Potyondy, of Cottage Grove. Like the character, he’s obsessed with sports. But Potyondy said he isn’t worried that people would confuse the real him with the fatuous jerk he plays.

“When they’re so out there it’s almost easier because you can pull yourself into the character and know it isn’t you,” he said. “The sports part, that’s me.”

If you go:

Locally Grown Theatre presents “12 Angry Men” by Reginald Rose at 7 p.m. May 12-13 and 19-20 and at 2 p.m. May 14 and 21 at Newport United Methodist Church, 1596 11th Ave., Newport. Admission is $16.52 for adults and $11.34 for students and seniors. For more information, visit http://locally grown theatre.org.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

(651) 319-4501
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