Even though the Broadway-bound Bonnie and Clyde has closed, the Asolo Rep still has a significant Broadway connection this season. The director of Twelve Angry Men, which opens Jan. 14, is Frank Galati, who won two Tony Awards in 1990 for directing and adapting a memorable production of The Grapes of Wrath.
Galati also earned a Tony nomination in 1998 for directing the musical Ragtime on Broadway.
Both of those shows were sweeping epics with huge casts. Twelve Angry Men, by contrast, takes place entirely in a cramped jury room. But Galati says this classic show is epic in its own way.
“It’s actually a complicated story of these 12 men, their backgrounds and personalities, and how all of that effects their deliberations,” he says. “You experience numerous stories unfolding simultaneously. It’s really a cross-section of America, though, being set in 1956, this is a cross-section of white, male America. That’s part of the poignancy of it now.”
Galati has always been attracted by what he calls “the American narrative,” and he says Twelve Angry Men takes a “searing look at the American judicial system, and at the American character.” He thinks it couldn’t be more timely in an era when some are questioning whether the American jury system is capable of handling the trials of terrorists.
“A great text like this has all the ingredients to stand the test of time,” he says. “It doesn’t need to be tinkered with or altered to be universal in its meaning and its appeal.”
A genial man with a white, Santa Claus-style beard, Galati spent much of his career in Chicago with the Steppenwolf and Goodman theaters. But he’s been aware of the Asolo since 1966, when he was a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa and came to see Asolo productions that he still recalls fondly.
“It was a treasury of classical theater, and an irresistible draw,” he says. “You could find that level of professional theater at few places in the country at that time. I remember a brilliant production of [Carlo] Goldoni’s The Fan, and beautifully done productions of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, parts 1 and 11, really challenging works.”
In part because he was so impressed with the area’s cultural life today, Galati and his partner, director Peter Amster, bought a condo in Sarasota recently. Amster directed The Perfume Shop at the Asolo last season, and is staging Deathtrap later this year.
Twelve Angry Men marks Galati’s Asolo debut. But his cast members, who speak almost reverently about their experience working with him, hope it’s the first of many shows.
Galati is a true collaborator who is “brilliant, funny, kind, patient and insanely skilled,” says actor David Breitbarth. “It’s a kind of effortless magic he performs every day he comes to work.”