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  • Writer's pictureChiquita Mullins Lee

Theater review | ‘Twelve Hours’: Compelling characters drive Death Row drama

Updated: May 29, 2020

Twelve Hours packs a lot of humanity into 90 minutes of gripping theater. Eight beautifully written characters are vividly realized in the world premiere of Dave Carley’s monologue play, which opened to a packed crowd tonight in the Garden Theater’s Green Room.

Wild Women Writing and Short North Stage have forged an ideal collaboration to examine the highly topical issue of capital punishment.

Suggested for mature audiences because of profanity and serious themes, this simply staged piece about a seemingly imminent death paradoxically brims with life.

All the characters are deeply affected by a young black man facing his last few hours on Death Row while hoping for a last-minute call of commutation from the governor in an unnamed Southern state.

Director Katherine Burkman guides an assured cast in finding many touching and thought-provoking moments -- and even a few amusing ones -- without crossing the line into melodrama or political polemics.

David Fawcett disarmingly opens the piece by employing soothing Southern cadences and gentlemanly kindnesses. He plays the prison warden, who tries to cajole young black inmate Jimmy Stanton (Taylor Martin Moss) into eating more of what his mother wants. As the warden mentions with bemusement, the mother’s concern about her son’s “long-term health” seems a bit misplaced.

Meanwhile, too late to make a difference, Jimmy’s lawyer (Stephen Woosley) begins to cope with his own guilt. In a profanity-packed confession, the alcoholic white lawyer describes how he failed his client, who was blamed and perhaps framed by the testimony of his two partners in the crime of raping and killing a white woman.

Ellen Nickles exudes a contemporary noblesse oblige as demonstrator Augusta Dickson Hall, a wealthy arts patron who persuaded the governor to put back funding for her favored local symphony but discovers that saving a young man is much harder.

Emily Bach captures the torn feelings of an expert doctor, who reluctantly gets pulled into the Death Row process after she meets Jimmy because of her disdain for needless suffering.

Nick Lingnofski finds just the right blend of frustration and humor as Rick, whose secretive role as the executioner becomes complicated when he discovers his attraction to the doctor.

As Jimmy’s long-suffering mother, Chiquita Mullins Lee is down-to-earth and spirited but fatalistic.

As Gov. Phil Estevez, who always keeps one eye on the next election, Glen Anthony Garcia reveals some honest emotion about his poor ethnic roots but always within the practiced and controlled presence of a successful politician.

Sitting virtually throughout the play with his back turned to the audience, Moss remains iconic and virtually faceless on Death Row.

Surrounded by the other characters in the final scene, Jimmy gets the last moments of precious attention but speaks only briefly against the blended music of Beethoven and a 50 Cent rap.

The rap musician’s name roughly equals what Jimmy’s last words are worth, Carley seems to suggest, in a world where justice can be blind to nuances of race, class and circumstance.

By Michael Grossberg, For The Columbus Dispatch

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