Starting Friday, play readings of Reginald Rose’s drama “12 Angry Men” will be presented by women all over the country. One presentation will take place Sunday at the State University of New York at New Paltz. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne spoke with the organizer of the New Paltz staged reading.
Initially written as a television play in 1954 by Reginald Rose, 12 Angry Men is a courtroom drama about jury deliberation in a homicide trial. It was adapted for the stage and in 1957 was made into a film. It was written by a man for male actors, 19 years before women were permitted to serve on juries in all 50 states.
“But I haven’t heard it read out loud yet, so I’m really excited to hear what it sounds like when it’s female voices,” Rotunda says. “I think the argument will sound different, for some reason.”
That’s Connie Rotunda. She is associate chair/professor of performance in the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY New Paltz, and is organizing the staged reading at her school.
“I think now that women are becoming more powerful in their voices, that there are more women candidates, that we are looking to get more women voting, it’s a really great piece of theatre to do it that way,” Rotunda says. “And to sort of swap the gender is exciting. It’s always exciting to do that in terms of an acting moment.”
The reading is part of an effort to increase voter registration and empower women as participants in local, state and national politics. The Political Science & International Relations Department at SUNY New Paltz is helping to organize voter registration and voter turnout activities that will follow the staged reading, which Rotunda says will come together same day.
“On the day of, we’re going in at 10 o’clock for a rehearsal. We rehearse for four hours, have lunch, and then go out and work in front of an audience,” says Rotunda. “As an actor you have to be really attentive and focused and make fast and exquisite choices about what you’re doing. So they haven’t done it yet. We haven’t even been in the same room together yet, so that will be very exciting.”
The women reading will be six students, two alumnae, three full-time faculty members and one adjunct professor. Sandy Christian, who is a psychotherapist and wife of SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian, is also a cast member. Again, Rotunda.
“I think in these times, with all the things that are happening politically with an election coming up, I sense that it’s time for people to start speaking out, whatever your politics are. It’s time for people to speak truthfully, honestly and passionately, with humanity,” says Rotunda. “And I think that’s what happens in this play is that you see the people who are, who have conflicts, and you see them as humans and you also see what their habits are and what their prejudices are and that, how that is spoken to and how people are making room for that, and yet the truth wills out.”
Rotunda says when approached with the idea of staging an all-women reading as part of a nationwide collective called “12,000 Voices,” she immediately said yes.
“I think that in these times to give voice to ideas about how people can change other people’s minds, how logic and facts are possible to put out there,” Rotunda says. “It’s an amazing piece of theatre about jurors in 1950 who are trying a case and how one juror is able to ask questions and talk to the jurors and get the story told so that eventually the jurors begin to change their minds.”
It’s the first time Rotunda is involved in this type of nationwide staged reading.
“I hope that everybody feels a sense of ownership for their own voice and a sense of community connection,” says Rotunda. “And I hope our students who are in the reading feel a great sense of accomplishment of being able to use what they have learned in class and what they have been doing and that they put it out in front of an audience.”
The staged reading of “12 Angry Men” is at 3 Sunday afternoon in Studley Theatre at SUNY New Paltz. There is also a reading Sunday at the Saint Rose Theater in Albany at 7 p.m. Staged readings are taking place across the country April 5 through April 8.