12 Angry Men 50 Years On

When veteran lighting designer Brian Cavanagh noticed 12 Angry Men on the Kavinoky Theatre’s schedule for this year, he called Artistic Director David Lamb to see if they had decided on a director. Lamb was planning to direct, but a few days later called back to offer the job to Cavanagh. “I had designed lighting for shows at the Kavinoky for the last 13 or 14 years,” he said, “but I wasn’t sure they’d hand me an entire show of this size.” It’s his directorial debut at the Kavinoky and his enthusiasm for the production is obvious.
Cavanagh has designed lighting or sets for more shows than he can count; over a thousand, he guesses. He has designed shows for Shakespeare in Delaware Park, The Kavinoky, Negila Ballet Artists, Folkloric Productions, Theatre of Youth Co., Summerfare Musical Theatre, the Pfeifer Theatre, and the Katharine Cornell Theatre. He also directed a few productions after leaving UB about 15 years ago, but decided to focus his creative energy primarily on lighting design. “I was getting way too busy with lighting,” he said, “ and I decided I didn’t want to take a month and a half out of my schedule to direct a show…unless it was something I really loved.”
Last year with the Irish Classical Theatre Company, for whom Cavanagh is Production Manager/Technical Director and Resident Lighting Designer, he co-directed their production of Blithe Spirit with Vincent O’Neill. “I love Blithe Spirit,” he said. “I thought if I were going to get back into the directing game, that would be one I’d actually make time for.” When he heard ICTC was planning to stage it, he approached O’Neill about directing. O’Neill was already slated to do it, but recognizing his own busy schedule, asked Cavanagh to co-direct. “It was great for me to get back into it, to watch Vincent and learn from him,” he said. The experience whetted his appetite for directing again.
He didn’t design the set for this show, although set designer David King has executed Cavanagh’s vision for him. “Everything is what I want and where I want it to be,” he said, “but I can’t take credit for the set design. Dave King did a great job.” He did design the lighting, however, and he sees an advantage in being able to conceive the look of the show while directing it; there’s nothing lost in the translation from director to lighting designer. “I had everything pre-cued, and the actors said our tech weekend was probably the fastest we’ve ever done, because the tech guy’s already doing it,” he joked.
Reginald Rose wrote 12 Angry Men as a teleplay for Studio One on CBS in 1954, then rewrote it as a stage play and a feature length screenplay for Henry Fonda in the lead role. Sidney Lumet directed the 1957 movie, his first feature. It’s the story of a jury’s deliberations at the end of a murder trial on one hot summer day, and one juror’s resistance to the pressure of the others to convict the defendant. Remakes over the years have updated the dialogue or added women, renaming it 12 Angry Jurors. Cavanagh believes the original story holds up, and resisted these kinds of changes. “I love the original and want to be true to it. The first is the best. It’s the hottest day of the summer, New York City in 1957, and that’s what we wanted to recreate.”
Sidney Lumet used camera angles and depth of field to create an increasing sense of claustrophobia and tension in the original film. How does Cavanagh manage this on an open stage? “Well, obviously we can’t do it the same as a camera, but I conceived a smaller room, pulled it way upstage to make it feel tighter,” he explained. “I wanted a darker room. A lot of the pictures I saw had all white plaster walls. I wanted something darker, to make it feel more closed in. Many of the conceptions I saw from other productions had a full bank of windows. I wanted just a couple of small windows, again, to bring it in. The table and chairs are the center, and around them, it’s tight.”
The director couldn’t wait to boast about his actors. “The casting is probably the best thing I did on this show,” Cavanagh said. “I was able to get 12 of the most talented actors in Buffalo. I can’t imagine how many years of experience we have on this stage…all great character actors.” The twelve angry men are: Jerry Maher, Doug Weyand, Steve Cooper, John Bascaglia, Lou Colaiacovo, Guy Wagner, Norm Sham, Christian Brandjes, Jim Maloy, Phil Knoerzer, Peter Jasowiak, and Don Gervasi. Steve Nassiff plays the guard.
Rose’s adaptation of the teleplay was originally a two act stage play. “There was also a three act version,” Cavanagh said, “but I didn’t want to break it up. It’s the kind of play that builds to a certain point and if you take a break in the middle of it, I just don’t think you have the same meaning anymore.” This production runs just over 90 minutes without an intermission.
Cavanagh feels strongly about the message conveyed in Rose’s script, the unapologetic bigotry in some of the characters, its impact undiminished after 50 years. “There are some lines in this play that are so strong, some of the prejudice [expressed], they just make my skin crawl. I think they did then, they still do. I think it holds up completely.”
12 Angry Men at the Kavinoky Theatre
Previews January 2 and 3, 8PM
Opens Friday, January 4, 8PM
Performances through February 3
320 Porter Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14201

About the author  ⁄ reed


Dear Nobody:

I saw it, and it was great. And sure, it's nice to be a specialist, but Cavanagh proves himself as a director, as well as a techie through this production.

Furthermore, I like to see people evolve within a profession based on the sheer amount of time they spend in the presence of masters. There have to be so many moments when people who haunt the stage think, "I'd do it this way...". Hence all the actors turned directors. Why not?

Congratulations to Joe Demerly, Brian Cavanagh and an excellent cast who brought the intricacies of each of these characters to life. I only knew Christian Brandjes through "sound painting" up until this performance, and he was fascinating to watch as the original dissenting juror, bringing a sincere attitude of supplication to the character that was tinged with the proper amount of righteousness.

Director and cast typify the meaning of multi-talented here. Cooper's alleged actions shouldn't reflect on his co-workers and acquaintances.

What do you do? Are you looking to direct?


What makes them think that because he can wire lights together, he can direct as well? If it's true, then there's a lot of Xmas tree lovers waiting for their chance. Our theatre community is really terrific, but there's sooo cliquey. It like Appalachian Theatre. Can they please give someone else a chance?? The same damn people, or their significant others, have every role and position lined up before anyone else even hears about it.

You know, I was looking forward to seeing this play, but now that I know he's directing, forget it. Not to mention the Steve Cooper thing...yikes!!


I don't know about this guy, way too much drama.

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