The setting is a cramped, claustrophobic jury room on a sweltering summer day in a big city in 1957.
Twelve jurors have just been charged by a judge to consider the guilt or innocence of a teenager — implied to be a poor minority — who faces the electric chair, accused in the brutal stabbing death of his father.
And when 11 are ready to vote guilty and get on with their lives, one man, uncertain of the boy’s innocence but not yet convinced of his guilt, stands alone.
The play “12 Angry Men” was based on a CBS television drama from 1954, and subsequently became a classic movie starring Henry Fonda as Juror No. 8, the lone holdout.
Director Kevin Vincent of Bayside, who also portrays Juror No. 8, said the play has been favorite of his since he first saw it in childhood.
“The material is great,” he said. “I’ve done it before with different casts and there is a different flavor each time.”
He and Bernard Bosio of Middle Village, who plays Juror No. 3, said there are reasons the play still stands up nearly 60 years after it was first performed.
“There are underlying issues of racism and bigotry that still resonate today,” said Bosio, whose gruff character is the vocal leader of the “guilty” crowd.
Vincent quoted New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay’s take on the play.
“‘Twelve Angry Men” is, at base, not about guilt and innocence, but about democracy. And it moves us most deeply when it shows us that men should be allowed to have their own lifestyles and opinions without being bullied or persecuted for having them.”
The shows take place not on a stage, but the floor of a small, intimate theater in the basement of Colonial Church of Bayside.
Vincent, who co-founded Theatre Time Productions with his wife, Judy, called it a deliberate choice to give the cast a more accurate feeling of a small, confined space.
“It’s going to be theater in the round, with audience members sitting right there on the floor with the cast,” he said. “The audience will be right on top of us.”
Bosio said he doesn’t mind.
“I’ve done it before and I like it,” he said. “I call it ‘theater-in-your-face.’”
Tempers quickly become as hot as stifling summer weather, with No. 3 and No. 8 — only two jurors are ever identified by anything other than their number and profession — growing increasingly antagonistic toward each other.
Bosio, in a role made famous by tough-guy actor Lee J. Cobb in the movie, said he doesn’t consider his character to be the heavy in the play.
There are even visible cracks in his facade when discussing his own son about the same age as the accused.
“He’s really a good guy,” Bosio said. “He’s a product of his own upbringing. He’s a wounded man, a guy who was always raised to not show his feelings, to keep them bottled up. But if you’re in trouble, you’d never have a better ally.”
While Vincent calls the piece timeless, he chose to keep the action in 1957, even down to the style of hats the men carry as they enter the jury room.
“I’ve seen updated versions like ‘12 Angry Women’ and ‘12 Angry Jurors,’” he said. “I did some homework and found out that in 1957, not a lot of women served on juries. It did happen, but it was rare. And I’ve always considered this to be a period piece.”