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A clone of a classic film? Not guilty

It looks like an open-and-shut case.

An obvious murder weapon. An eyewitness to the stabbing. A poor, uneducated defendant – a kid, just 16, but one with a violent history and a clear motive to kill his old man.

What's left to talk about?

But for one jury member in the 1950s drama “Twelve Angry Men,” the question of “guilty” or “not guilty” is still just that: a question. One worth some debate, he thinks, before the American justice system straps this juvenile offender into an electric chair.

The play, too, is open to interpretation, says Richard Thomas, star of the touring production. Just as Juror #8 persuades his fellows to consider alternatives to a quick verdict, Thomas says, this staging of Reginald Rose's script proves an eye-opener for audiences.

“Lots of people come into the theater wanting to see the (1957) film - and it isn't. It's very different,'' says Thomas, a stage and screen veteran best known as eldest son John-Boy on the '70s TV series “The Waltons.”

He's been traveling with “Twelve Angry Men” for the better part of two years; the play, first written for television, was successfully revived on Broadway by director Scott Ellis and the non-profit Roundabout Theatre Co. in 2004.

“There are so many different ways to approach a text,'' Thomas says. “There is no one definitive approach, although we tend to have a proprietary feeling about our choices as artists: ‘This is the way I see it.'

“In the case of ‘Twelve Angry Men,' if anything could be considered definitive, it's the film. I mean, Henry Fonda, and 11 of the best actors of the period? Going into a production like this, that's on your mind, of course. But early on in the process, you just stop thinking about the movie.''

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