‘Twelve Angry Men’ stands trial at Kent County Theatre Guild

Bruce Leister (holding pencil) discusses the case with fellow jurors, played by, clockwise next to Mr. Leister, Michael Forrest, Mike Polo, Paul Janiga, Art Paul, Jeff Bellon, Luke Siler, Steve Caporiccio, Kevin Smith, Jose Bernard, Larry Mola and Purcell Dye in the Kent County Theatre Guild’s production of “Twelve Angry Men.” Missing from the photo is James Muzzy, who plays the guard. (Delaware State News photos/Marc Clery)

Bruce Leister (holding pencil) discusses the case with fellow jurors, played by, clockwise next to Mr. Leister, Michael Forrest, Mike Polo, Paul Janiga, Art Paul, Jeff Bellon, Luke Siler, Steve Caporiccio, Kevin Smith, Jose Bernard, Larry Mola and Purcell Dye in the Kent County Theatre Guild’s production of “Twelve Angry Men.” Missing from the photo is James Muzzy, who plays the guard. (Delaware State News photos/Marc Clery)

A courtroom classic comes to the Kent County Theatre Guild starting Sept. 16 with the acclaimed drama “Twelve Angry Men.”

Based on the 1954 teleplay by Reginald Rose and the much-heralded 1957 movie, the one-room production centers around a jury forced to consider the fate of a 16-year-old boy from the slums, on trial for allegedly stabbing his father to death.

The story begins after the closing arguments have been presented and the 12 men must unanimously decide the verdict. The jury is further instructed that a guilty verdict will be accompanied by a mandatory death sentence.

Best Bets logo -NEWSeveral jurors have various reasons for discriminating against the defendant and those differences are shown and tempers flare throughout the emotionally charged show.

The movie, whose screenplay is being used for the play, was a critical success upon release although not a box-office smash. It was nominated for three Academy Awards and was voted the second-best courtroom drama in film history by the American Film Institute, topped only by “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

In the long history of the Kent County Theatre Guild, “Twelve Angry Men” has never been performed until now.

“You’d think in 63 years, we would have done it at least once,” said director Patti Gatto.

The Guild’s makeup has leaned heavily toward the female side throughout the years, which may partly explain the show’s absence.

“It’s been mentioned for several years. The board wanted to include at least one classic play in the season, and it just felt like the right time,” said board president John Muller.

“I guess the board was right because we were able to cast it with 12 men, when there is an option to cast all women or a mixed gender cast. The stars aligned.”

The cast is a cross-section of veteran actors and those new to the stage.

From left, Jose Bernard holds back Steve Caporiccio in a contentious scene with Bruce Leister in "Twelve Angry Men."

From left, Jose Bernard holds back Steve Caporiccio in a contentious scene with Bruce Leister in “Twelve Angry Men.”

“We have a nice mix of guys,” Ms. Gatto said.

“We have familiar faces, a couple of guys who have done a half-dozen shows and a couple of them have done nothing period.”

The group has bonded quickly, as evidenced by Tuesday night’s rehearsal when they gave each other some good-natured ribbing whenever an actor would flub a line.

“Sometimes (assistant director Terri Thompson) and I feel like kindergarten monitors and we think ‘When did this become a comedy?’ It’s almost like being in the dugout during one of my kids’ baseball games. Except there are no bats.”

One of those 12 completely new to stage is Luke Siler, an English teacher at Seaford High School, who wanted to improve his teaching ability by learning the art of performance.

“I came in kind of raw. I saw the audition was for 12 guys and I thought the odds were pretty good. I showed up to the audition nervous and not sure what I was getting into. Fortunately my character is nervous and not sure what he’s getting into. So that worked out well,” he said.

“But the more time I’ve spent here, the more I’ve realized I gotten into something cool.”

Mr. Siler says the more experienced actors in the cast have been very supportive.

“They’ve all been very encouraging. We’ve even met on off times to go over lines. I’ve learned a lot just by watching them. They are great guys both on and off stage.”

Bruce Leister, a 30-year veteran of the Guild, who plays the pivotal role that Henry Fonda played in the movie, that of the only juror to initially question the guilt of the defendant, says the younger actors are doing well.

“I think it was a little intimidating at first for some of the newer guys but they’ve really come along well,” he said.

“The thing about this show is that there really is not a bad role. Everyone gets their moment to shine and everyone is integral to the show.”

The are no names used in the play. Each juror is just referred in the script as a number.

Another notable twist to “Twelve Angry Men” is that actors spend certain portions of the play with their backs toward the audience as they sit at the jury table or pace the room. It’s something you rarely see on the stage and an initial obstacle for the director and actors.

“The challenge with these guys is to remind them that you are stuck in this room and you need to get up and naturally do what you would do if you were trapped in this room for hours on end. Because it is comfy just to sit at the table and deliver your lines,” Ms. Gatto said.

For the actors, it’s almost unnatural.

“You have your back to the audience at times, doing things that you really aren’t supposed to do on stage. But it works. It absolutely works,” Mr. Leister said.

Another Kent County Theatre veteran Mike Polo, who plays the role of the loudmouthed bigot portrayed by Ed Begley in the movie, agrees that the staging took some getting used to.

“There is one part where I’m supposed to be standing in front of the window (at the front of the stage) and then I turn away from the audience and I get the willies because you’re not supposed to do that,” he said.

Although the story is familiar to many, the show is not an exact replica of the movie.

“In a lot of respects, these guys are somewhat better than the actors in the movie,” Ms. Gatto said.

“They have each brought their own personalities to these characters.”

For Mr. Polo, any competition isn’t a problem.

“I’ve never seen the movie,” he said.

His role is not a likable one and that’s fine too.

“As an actor, being detested is great. As a human being, it’s not so great,” he joked.

Although written in 1954, Ms. Gatto said the play is still as relevant today as it was back then.

“Unfortunately discrimination and prejudice is alive and well like it was back then,” she said.

The play will run two weekends starting Sept. 16 with Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinées at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for senior citizens, military members and students and $10 for those 12 and younger.

To purchase tickets and for more information, visit kctg.org.

The Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse is at 140 E. Roosevelt Ave., Dover.

New look to Patchwork

Those coming to see “Twelve Angry Men” will notice some differences in the theater, as it has undergone a bit of renovation.

The previously stationary seating has been removed and replaced with flexible chairs that can be moved around. The seating area is in now in levels with a look similar to when it hosted fundraising shows.

Mr. Muller said there were two main reasons for this.

“First, and foremost, the theater was not really accommodating to our patrons with disabilities. There were only two options for a person in a wheelchair, the front row on the left or the right. The person had to move his or her chair every time someone wanted to go up one aisle or the other. This new seating allows us to seat individuals with disabilities anywhere on the floor,” he said.

“We can sit more than two people in wheelchairs and can accommodate patrons that may have had difficulty sitting in the fixed seats with arm rests.

“The second reason is because we are going to experiment with different styles of seating. We can try dinner theater, dessert theater, etc. Also, we are hosting more concerts, so having space for a little dancing is nice too.”

Mason-Dixon Music Fest

The first Mason-Dixon Music Festival, hosted by the Marydel Volunteer Fire Company, is set for Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Marydel Little League Field, 643 Taraila Road.

The event includes 10 bands for $30 for adults, $10 for kids 6 to 15 and free for those 5 and younger.

Artists include Kick Back, Sara Ann Garrison, HydraFX, Chain Break, River & Rhodes, No Tell Motel, Big Rumble Twist, Super Bueno, Strait Shooter and headliner Sam Grow.

A kids’ zone, food trucks and a salute to the military will also be part of the day.

Contact (302) 331-3234 for more information and tickets.

It’s All About Kids in Camden

“It’s All About Kids,” a family fun day sponsored by It’s All Good in Delaware Inc., will also be held Saturday from noon until 5 p.m. at the Camden-Wyoming Little League Park, 87 Remus Lane in Camden.

The day will include bouncies, obstacle course, dunk tank, carnival games, prizes, contests, costumed characters, fire truck, face painting, all day Wiffle ball, local vendors, food and beverages.

Admission is $5 with those younger than 3 years old admitted free.

It’s All Good in Delaware is a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps families throughout the year. Every year they adopt several families at Christmas to provide gifts for kids who may not receive anything.

Rain date is Sunday.

For more information, visit www.itsallgoodindelaware.com.

Southern Avenue at Jonathan’s Landing

Memphis-based blues quartet Southern Avenue will perform at Jonathan’s Landing Thursday at 7 p.m.

While deeply rooted in the blues, the up-and-coming band – guitarist Ori Naftaly, vocalist Tierinii Jackson, drummer Tikyra Jackson and bassist Daniel McKee – explores soul, gospel, rock and even pop forms. Their debut full-length recording is scheduled for release on Stax Records in spring 2017.

Tickets are $10 for Central Delaware Blues Society members, $15 for nonmembers and are available at the door. Jonathan’s Landing is at 1309 Ponderosa Drive in Magnolia. For more information, visit centraldelawareblues.com.

Now Showing

New this weekend in theaters is Tom Hanks in the real-life aviation saga “Sully”; the suspense thrillers “When the Bough Breaks” and “The Disappointments Room” and the animated “The Wild Life 3D.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is “Captain America: Civil War,” the horror film “The Conjuring 2” and the comedy “Popstar: Never Stop Never Popping.”

To share news of your entertainment group, venue or event, contact Craig Horleman at 741-8224 or chorl@newszap.com.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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