WINTER PARK – Sylvia Vicchiullo remembers exactly where she was – in a restaurant – when the news flashed across the television screen, and it seemed like everyone in the room froze.
“It was almost like ‘Where were you when Kennedy was shot,’ “ she said. “Everyone got up and went to the television to hear that verdict. Time stopped in that split second.”
What was being reported on the television screen was perhaps the most highly anticipated decision in years: the jury’s verdict in the Casey Anthony murder trial. Vicchiullo and everyone else in that restaurant listened in silence as the not guilty verdict was read.
“Everybody in that restaurant I was in were pretty much in the same mindset – how the hell did that happen,” she said. “It was very curious – how did they find this girl innocent? Maybe it’s that they didn’t think she was innocent, but maybe there was enough reasonable doubt not to convict her.”
Vicchiullo thought about that verdict as she spent the past few weeks herself in a jury room – although it wasn’t as a juror on a legal case, criminal or civil. That jury room was inside the Breakthrough Theatre in Winter Park, where Vicchiullo is the director of their latest production, “12 Angry Men,” the classic Reginald Rose drama, which opens on Friday and runs through Sept. 19.
“12 Angry Men,” of course, is the classic drama about a first degree murder trial. Eleven of the jurors are ready to convict the defendant and go home. But one juror holds out. He’s not convinced the case is so clear cut. But can he actually persuade the other 11 jurors that there is, in fact, reasonable doubt – or will they convince him to vote guilty and make it unanimous?
Originally a television movie in the 1950s, it became an Academy Award winning movie in 1957, directed by Sidney Lumet, and – set entirely in that jury room, with the 12 male actors – it made a smooth and easy transition to the stage.
And it’s a reminder, said the Breakthrough Theatre’s artistic director, Wade Hair, that people love a good courtroom drama.
“People are still fascinated with controversial, circus-like trials,” Hair said. “Just look at how riveted people were with the Casey Anthony trial.”
Vicchiullo agreed, and said she thought about the Casey Anthony trial while directing this play, which she said has aged well, even though it was written 50 years ago.
“The only thing that I feel is dated is the language, which is a little more fifties-ish than modern lingo,” she said. “But the premise of the story is just as relevant today. The jurors still represent a cross section of the people we encounter on a daily basis. We come into these trials with our own preconceived concepts, even though they ask you not to do that. Reginald Rose was making a point that not everything is what it seems, and the whole concept of reasonable doubt is, before we send this man off to die, we need to talk about it first. I think it still is relevant, especially after the Casey Anthony trial.”
In fact, Vicchiullo noted that people stayed glued to the Anthony trial for weeks – a reminder that a high profile trial can attract a huge audience. She’s hoping for the same with this production.
”I’m counting on it,” she said. “This is a really well written drama, and it translates very well to the stage.”
It helps quite a bit, she said, that the production attracted 12 great actors who reallhy bring the show to life. That assisted in her main goal, ensuring that the play didn’t drag as it deals with 12 men at a table, talking.
“That’s the biggest thing, how to not let it get stagnant, because they’re all sitting around a table,” she said. “One positive thing about Breakthrough that I like is it’s such a small theater. I saw ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ there last year and I felt like I was in the attic with them. I think Breakthrough really lends itself to a play like this. You feel like you’re in the jury room. When you see those men, you see the nuances in them. You see their eyebrows raised.”
And her cast, she added, is phenomenal.
“We had 28 men show up for the auditions,” she said. “I could have cast this show twice. There’s an incredible amount of talent out there. There’s not a lot of action in this show, and no singing. But what they bring is incredible realism. These guys are amazing.”
“12 Angry Men” will performed at 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, and 3 p.m. on Sundays, at the theater at 419A W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park. Tickets cost $18 for general admission, $15 for seniors, $12 for students, and $10 for anyone who has worked with Breakthrough Theatre in the past. The Monday night shows are $10 for everyone.
For reservations, call 407-920-4034.
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