SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – “Twelve Angry Men” is unlike most other Seton Hall plays.
For one, its stage setting is spare, featuring the actors sitting around a table. Then there’s the fact that there are no specific scenes or even an intermission, just the characters interacting and arguing with each other for the duration of the show.
But the most obvious difference is the all-male cast, led by a female director. While such an arrangement might have resulted in a difficult working relationship, the cast and director of Seton Hall’s first spring production say it was not an issue.
In fact, director Deirdre Yates, a Seton Hall theater professor and West Orange resident, finds the production benefits from having a cast of all men.
“There’s a lot of testosterone in the room, but they’re supposed to be angry, and testosterone brings out anger,” Yates said. “I think that one of the things that comes from (an all-male cast) is a real solid group sense, an ensemble kind of feeling that’s so important for this play. So having 12 men bond and form a unit… is really great.”
Actor Philip Baker said that he hardly notices the gender difference. Baker, who portrays the antagonistic Juror 3, said that regardless of gender, Yates is the right person to direct the play.
“It’s really helped me grow as an actor working with her, more than working with any other director,” he said. “Especially in a big character show like this, her direction is very, very important and helpful for helping us understand our own characters.”
Other productions of “Twelve Angry Men,” which tells the story of 12 very different jurors clashing as they decide the fate of a young man on trial, have reworked the script to incorporate women. But Quemars Ahmed, who plays the protagonist -- Juror 8 – said he feels changing the play is unnecessary
“In terms of the fact that it’s a classic work, you don’t want to touch it,” Ahmed said. “It doesn’t need to be rewritten. It was written for a certain time, and the message still fits regardless of whether there are women in it or not.”
Yates agrees that the play should not have been changed because it would affect how the characters behaved.
“I honestly feel that much of the dialog and much of the dynamics of the play has to do with male interaction,” Yates said. “I think you throw off the dynamics and the interaction between the characters (if you rewrote the play) because it is written as men. There’s a different way that men relate to each other than male-females and all females.”
Yet what matters the most to Yates, Baker and Ahmed is that the audience learns from the lessons of the play.
“The messages of the play aren’t necessarily obsolete,” Ahmed said. “We still need to work on how we interact with each other, how we see each other, how we treat race relations, economic relations. I don’t want the audience to divorce itself from the reality of it… There is a message that’s relevant for today.”
Seton Hall's production of “Twelve Angry Men” will run from Feb. 21-Feb. 23 with performances at 8 p.m. and on Feb. 24 with a 2 p.m. performance at the Theatre-in-the-Round, on the Seton Hall campus. Tickets are $5.
The reporter is participating in a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.