I worked as a stage manager for 12 Angry Men last summer.
My favorite shows were on Thursdays.
“Lift, #10.” I’d say to Rich Deike.
He’d raise his arms, I’d spritz. Four pumps, under each arm. I’d examine my work, trying to decide whether or not it actually looks like sweat, when –
“Hey!” I recall snapping down the hall of the crowded backstage area, where #3 (Ron Hasson) had captured #2 (Anthony Corvino) in a headlock.
Someone else back stage mimicked me like a parrot. There was the murmur of someone practicing their lines. Another straightens his tie.
As every other night of the run, I reminded the cast of 12 Angry Men they have two minutes until places.
I’m warning you in advance that this is going to be part blog post, part love letter, and part review.
All of which will be 100% biased.
As the stage manager of this production (along with assistant stage manager and light tech Sophia Inman), I saw the show about 20 times. I was there in the early stages, organizing contact information and taking notes, feeding lines during rehearsal, and on a few joyous occasions, standing in for absent jurors.
Cut to me laughing “SHUT UP!” at #8 (Josh Bailey), during a rehearsal when #3 was out.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed on to this. I was told Katherine Vernon, the director was brilliant – a reputation she certainly lived up to. Coming fresh off The Laramie Project, a (mostly) youthful, energetic cast, I figured that I’d dealing with a lot of stern, serious, seasoned actors.
Cut again to Ron Hasson giggling like a teletubby during a pre-show spritz.
What I found under the serious tone of the play, were twelve unexpectedly silly, fun dudes. Just a bunch of regular, really really good guys. Men that could very well be my brother, my co-worker, my father, or my uncle.
Guys like Craig Kittner, #4, who helps turn off the lights every night. While I suspect it’s coming from a helpful place, I also sense that he wants to help Sophia and I get out earlier so we’re not waiting in the parking lot in the dark. Will Roden, #7, who insists I need a fairy name and takes a teasing, big brotherly role.
“Hey, that chair is there,” he called after me one night, after knocking my arm on it.
There’s Scott Davis, who created a set that’s right out of a 1960s jury room, and Steve Vernon (another favorite human), who applauded and encouraged the men during rehearsal to really dig in and let their characters come out.
The whole crew, who played along with letting me make this teaser video.
Kim Ewonus, who reads a book every night before the show. Nick Smith, who replied with “tired, like new born baby tired”, when I asked him what he was so “angry about”. Dom Gibbs-Ulrich, who always has a smile on his face and something nice to say. Jim Bowling, who has the most magnificent t-shirts and frequently brings a camera backstage to get candid shots.
There’s Alex Wharff, husband of Katherine, and fellow comrade in advertising arms (in real life, too, people! That’s good casting!!). Anthony Corvino, who has one of the most delightful, awkward senses of humor. And finally, the wonderful Josh Bailey, who I’ve elevated to a “trolling each other’s Facebook comments” level of friendship.
(We’ll be best friends soon, Josh. I’m coming for you.)
But aside from being solid, dependable guys, sometimes, they’re just 12 angry men.
Angry, passionate, and vocal about our current political climate. 12 angry, passionate, vocal, and well-informed men who in many cases, betrayed the views of their on-stage characters to express genuine frustration, while smoking in the theater parking lot.
I’ve listened to Craig Myers (one of my favorite theater humans) express his disgust for whatever administration bombshell had dropped that day. Craig Myers, who played Fred Phelps and stood 2 inches from my face spewing unimaginable hatred, was now talking about how his concern about the millions of Americans at risk for losing their healthcare.
Seeing the funny and friendly Craig transform into a monster every night during The Laramie Project will always be one of my favorite things.
During this show however, that challenge goes to Ron Hasson and previously mentioned Rich Deike. I’ve watched Ron throw a chair more times than I can count, and have heard Rich run through his racist, close-minded dialogue over and over.
Each time, his voice growing increasingly louder and more hateful.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you people!” He’d shout, with Katherine and I watching and clasping our hands together in anticipation.
The evolution was beautiful, but chilling to watch. I’m not sure if I can ever express the satisfaction of seeing them work through portraying their hot-headed, ignorant characters.
Another part of stage managing this show was being privy to the live reactions of the audience. Many Laramie Project alums came out to support Josh Bailey (who directed TLP), and got their former roles of villains and vigilantes reversed. I witnessed Beau Mumford’s (Aaron McKinney) jaw drop during Rich’s explosive speech. I saw Amanda Young’s (Aaron’s Girlfriend, who once confronted Romaine) eyes nearly pop out when Ron charged towards another juror.
I watched Michael Pipicella (Russell Henderson) lean in, listening, and trying to take the entire show in, while local reviewers feverishly took notes. Christina Brown, (Preacher’s Wife), who left the show shaking her head, saying “That was so wonderful,” in authentic appreciation and astonishment.
Aside from these not-so-surprising reactions were others, that perhaps, I didn’t expect. The whispers of “oh no” when one of the jurors changed his “guilty” vote to “not guilty”. Hearing someone express dissatisfaction at the ending.
A nightly wake up call to the ever-present divide.
A palpable divide, one I can only describe as a Pop Rock, tinder box tension. You never know who’s going to show up, or what their views are going to be.
12 Angry Men has been a hell of a ride. While I’ve gotten the rare opportunity to see the evolution of these actors, of the show, over months, you really see it every night. Every performance. The result of Katherine Vernon’s incredible work and creativity is a perfect orchestration of humor, discomfort, fire, and justice.
Another Big Dawg selected, controversial piece that says the words and speaks the truths that need to be said right now. Another encouragement to say the words and speak the truths that you need to speak right now.
Whatever those truths may be.