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All Saints, Pasadena Playhouse Director of “Twelve Angry Men” Confront Racism

Published on Monday, November 18, 2013 | 5:53 am
 
Ed Bacon (left) and Sheldon Epps (right)

All Saints Church will hold a discussion on racism with All Saints Rector Ed Bacon and Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director Sheldon Epps on Thursday, November 21 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

Epps will discuss his production of “Twelve Angry Men,” a cultural stage play currently being shown at The Pasadena Playhouse.

“I think it was actually prompted by this current production of Twelve Angry Men that I was hoping that this production would in fact prompt a conversation among the people who see the play about racial issues and racial politics and how that’s still very much with us, and still very alive in our society,” Epps said.

Twelve Angry Men was first created as a 1954 teleplay for the Studio One anthology television series. It was adapted as a stage play by Reginald Rose in 1955.

“I hope that our production of this great American classic will prompt serious dialogue onstage and off about the vitally important issue of race in America,” Epps said. “In some quite startling ways, the play reflects issues that are daily in the headlines. It mirrors the ongoing challenges that come from assumptions and pre-conceptions that are, alas, still with everyone.”

The play unfolds in a New York City courtroom on an August evening as a jury is filed into a deliberation room. They are tasked with determining the verdict in a murder case in which a young man is accused of killing his father and faces the death penalty if found guilty.

The dozen nameless men find themselves in the role of potential executioner, but first they must face themselves, their biases and their own sense of justice. What starts as an open-and-shut case soon twists into an edge of your seat drama as each juror begins to question how he should cast their vote.

“It is unfortunate that the play was in the mid-50s yet still be so relevant and feels so contemporary,” Epps said. “When Ed or someone at the church heard about the production and the way we’re dealing with it, they contacted me about coming over to All Saints and speaking with him about how arts and the theater in particular can be used or can be an instrument for addressing issues like racism which obviously is something that’s very, very important in his ministry.”

The two-hour production has a cast of 6 black and 6 white actors. It is on view at the Pasadena Playhouse until December 1.

Epps said the casting of the play is “like putting together a chamber orchestra.”

“You want each individual instrument to be really strong and really distinctive both in the way they look and the way they found and their emotional — kind of internal emotional resonance,” Epps said. “But, they also have to know how to blend together and play the music of this play together.”

“They’re really, really wonderful individually, yes, but I think that the real power is with this very, very strong ensemble that works very well together,” he added.

Epps said the dialogues in Pasadena Playhouse’s stage adaptation has a lot of similarities with the original.

“We have changed very, very little, very few actual changes in the text itself — 97.99 percent of the dialog in the play is the dialog that was originally written,” Epps said. “It’s just sort of a testament to the ongoing transcendence of the play that it feels as contemporary as it is without changing very much.”

Bacon has been the rector of All Saints Church since 1995. He has also been a contributor on Oprah.com and is the author of “8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind.”

Epps has been the artistic director of Pasadena Playhouse since 1997. Before beginning his tenure at The Playhouse, he served as Associate Artistic Director of the Old Globe Theatre for four years. He was also a co-founder of the off-Broadway theatre, The Production Company.

“I think now I’ve done five shows on Broadway — three of them musicals and two of them plays. A couple of them were nominated for Tony Awards and one of them — Blues in the Night — was also down in London and was a bit success in London and nominated for Laurence Olivier Award and all of that,” Epps said. “So it’s been a good career.”

All Saints Church is located at 132 N. Euclid Ave. For more information, call (626) 583-271 or visit http://www.allsaints-pas.org.

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