In 1954, Reginald Rose wrote his drama “12 Angry Men” — nearly 20 years before women were allowed to serve on juries in all 50 states.
Broadway producer Lauren Class Schneider is working to correct that egregious wrong.
This weekend, impassioned women from all over the country will gather to read the famous play wherever they can, from community colleges, law schools and universities to high schools, community centers and regional theaters — including, on Sunday afternoon, Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor — as part of the “12,000 Voices” initiative, which aims for 1,000 readings nationwide.
“The readings will take place in every nook and cranny of the country: red, blue and purple communities in all 50 states,” Schneider said in a statement. “And after each staged reading there will be the opportunity to update voter registration and learn about voter engagement. Voter suppression is real. Gerrymandering is real. Our voices and our votes matter. We can increase awareness and participation through the medium we all love.”
Suzanne Clifton Walsh will direct the Sag Harbor reading, featuring a cast of local actors who will explore the power one person can have when speaking with conviction in the judicial system, and the bigotry within that runs rampant to this day.
“We’re still looking at these issues — what goes around comes around — in terms of the state of our country right now and people having so many prejudices, whether it be on age, religion, race,” explained Walsh, who recently stepped back from her 40-year teaching and directing career in New York, and now lives in Water Mill. “The play is really all about taking the time to have an open mind and listen to each other, and that’s what happens in the two acts.”
Following the closing arguments of a first-degree murder trial, “12 Angry Men” begins with the deliberations among an average jury, where 11 of the men, who want to convict the 18-year-old defendant of stabbing his father — which would result in an automatic death sentence — are poised against one, who believes the man is innocent.
“Every juror has their little characteristic — the bully, the bigot, the old, feeble, quiet person who has just gone through life feeling trudged down — but they do listen,” Walsh said. “And then the ending is just totally opposite of the beginning.”
As fate would have it, Walsh once directed a production of “12 Angry Men,” except she could only use women, as it was staged at Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City’s oldest independent school for girls. And it was more than 30 years ago — a progressive move considerably ahead of its time.
“It was absolutely fascinating. They were like sponges,” Walsh said of her former students. “It’s such a fascinating story. All these years later, when I heard the idea, I thought, ‘This is great.’ And I can’t wait to be a part of this initiative.”
A reading of “‘12 Angry Men’ performed by 12 Impassioned Women” will be held on Sunday, April 7, at 2 p.m. at Bay Street Theater, located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor, as part of the national movement, “12,000 Voices,” and in support of The National Voter Registration Initiative. Admission is free. For more information, call (631) 725-9500 or visit 12000voices.com.