Bob Shouman, a recent immigrant from Syria, will be taking the stage for the first time this evening to play a lead role in The School Zone’s production of 12 Angry Men at the Barbara Barrett Theatre in St. John’s.
The canonical American drama is set in a tense jury room where jurors are deliberating over a murder trial. As the play progresses it becomes clear that many of the twelve jurors are fighting for a guilty verdict they arrived at based on xenophobic prejudice.
12 Angry Men was originally broadcast as television drama in 1954, soon after that it was adapted for the stage. A decade later it was turned into a feature film starring Henry Fonda, which won several Academy Awards.
Since then, 12 Angry Men has been re-imagined and referenced countless times in popular culture as a way of illustrating how bigotry and systemic oppression reinforce each other. Most recently, comedian Amy Schumer devoted an entire episode of her of sketch comedy show, Inside Amy Schumer, to a re-write of the drama; in Schumer’s version, 12 men decide whether she is hot enough to be on TV.
In January local directors, Fabian O’Keefe and John Moyes were inspired to mount a production of 12 Angry Men as a way of protesting Trump’s xenophobic stance on immigration.
The directors were interested in casting a refugee as Juror 11, a character who is aggressively berated by the other jurors because he is an immigrant. This choice was meant to highlight the similarities between the blatantly racist America depicted in the 1955 script and Trump’s America.
The directors visited the Association For New Canadians’ ESL Adult Training Center where Shouman auditioned for the role and landed the part. Shouman arrived in Canada from Syria about a year and a half ago and has been living in Newfoundland for the past five months.
While this is his first professional acting gig, he explained that he had experience, “…acting with friends and family for fun in my own country.”
He is a little bit nervous about tonight’s performance but mostly excited because he loves the script and thinks the audience will appreciate it as well.
“It’s a good story with a good ending; in the end the truth appears,” Shouman said.
The School Zone production of 12 ANGRY MEN is running from March 14 to March 18 at the Barbara Barrett Theatre in the Arts & Culture Centre. Tickets are available through the Arts & Culture Centre Box Office.