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Shakespeare Festival's 'Twelve Angry Men' like boarding a freight train

Published: Saturday, July 13 2013 1:00 p.m. MDT

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festivals 2013 production of "Twelve Angry Men."

Karl Hugh, Utah Shakespeare Festival

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“TWELVE ANGRY MEN,” Utah Shakespeare Festival, through Aug. 31; 800-PLAYTIX or www.bard.org.

CEDAR CITY — There's something slightly poignant about seeing "Twelve Angry Men" on the Fourth of July.

One of the six current offerings at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, "Twelve Angry Men" was originally written to be a teleplay in 1954; a year later, it was adapted for the stage.

Though many people are familiar with the Henry Fonda film version (1957), there's nothing quite like seeing it live.

When Juror #11, an immigrant, stands up to talk to the men about the beauty of democracy, the fact that a man's life hangs in the balance resting on a decision made by his peers, it forces one to take pause: Is a man's life haphazard? Dependent upon which of the jurors has tickets to a baseball game? Should it be treated so callously? Or based upon which prejudice one may have as he enters the jury room?

These, perhaps, are the questions playwright Reginald Rose had in mind when he penned the classic drama. What is due process? What does it mean to be “judged” by one's peers?

USF offers a very fine production of this classic tale. The key to pulling off "Twelve Angry Men" is to find 12 men able to engage in contentious debate, playful repartee and painful personal admissions.

Playing Juror #8, the only man willing to say the trial might be worth a conversation, is Martin Kildare. On stage, Kildare looks tall and intimidating. He calmly leads the men down a collective what-if debate, riling many into a frenzy.

Local actor Max Robinson passionately plays Juror #3, a self-doubting father who unabashedly denies the defendant could possibly be innocent.

Both actors do a wonderful job during their portions of the debate. Surrounded by 10 other actors who are fantastic at standing their ground during the conversation, you have a red-hot discussion on your hands and a very solid production.

David Ivers, the festival’s artistic director and director of this production, does a masterful job keeping momentum and movement and creating moments among the men. In a show that could feel rather static, Ivers' direction is electric, leaving you feeling, by the end, like you've boarded a freight train.

As Ivers said in his director's notes, " 'Twelve Angry Men' is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago. I'll let you decide if that's a good thing or not."

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