Guilty or not guilty?
You, the audience, will go on the journey with the cast of “12 Angry Jurors” as they decide the fate of a man charged with premeditated murder and facing the death penalty.
If you go with not guilty, you could be setting a killer free.
If it’s guilty, you might be sending an innocent man to his death.
“So which way do we fall?” said Rebecca Hanson, theater arts director at Island School. “The way that it’s written, it’s very captivating. That’s what draws you in. How would you decide, based on the evidence that’s being told to you during conversation?”
Based on a 1957 film “12 Angry Men,” the drama follows the jury as they debate, argue, persuade and consider the testimony and evidence presented in the courtroom. Eleven quickly decide the suspect is guilty. But one holds out, thus setting off an intimate, revealing look at how these jurors stay the course or change their initial view.
The play, nearly three months in the works, opens at 7 tonight at Island School, with shows also at 7 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $6 in advance at the school’s main office and $8 at the door.
The 80-minute play has but one setting, a barren room with the jurors seated at tables. There are no big action scenes, no crazy stunts, no dramatic lighting or funky effects. Just 12 jurors from all walks of life talking about the case before them.
This is Hanson’s first play as theater arts director at Island School since coming on board when Peggy Ellenberg retired. It’s one she’s loved since high school.
She researched popular high school plays and “12 Angry Men” was one of them. Then, she reviewed the list of plays done at Island School in its 42 years and learned it was not on it.
“Let’s do it,” she decided.
It’s success hinges on the cast’s words, emotions and reactions.
“It’s about how we see different people coming together to discuss facts and evidence and testimony to decide the fate of one person,” Hanson said. “It’s a really wonderful reflection on our system of a fair trial and what it means to have a jury of peers and taking our citizenship seriously.”
And just as the jury recounts the evidence and testimony, the audience does, too.
“We as an audience are trying to decide whether or not the kid is guilty or not guilty,” Hanson said. “We were not there in the courtroom. We didn’t hear the testimony or see the evidence. We see and hear it through the jury.”
Alexa Lauryn plays juror 3, while Tiago Morgado plays juror 8, who is at first the only one to argue the suspect is not guilty.
Both are juniors and have been involved in Island School plays since fourth grade.
“It something we love to be a part of,” Lauryn said.
In most plays, there are different scenes that require actors to come and go. Not in “12 Angry Jurors.” The entire cast is on stage throughout, which creates a new level of challenges, Lauryn said.
“But I think it makes for more interesting interactions because you have to be much more aware of your stage presence,” she said.
Morgado agreed, noting it’s a “different environment” that draws the audience in. Because there are no “wow” moments, the cast connects with the crowd through small details — facial expressions and hand gestures. When attention is focused on one side of the stage, people on the other have to do their part to keep the scene flowing.
“You have to do these little things to create that environment of an actual juror room,” he said. “It’s not just one thing at a time.”
While there is not a single main character, Morgado’s role really is as the protagonist, and the others, initially, are antagonists. As he argues his points and revisits what they heard and saw in court, some, slowly, come to agree with him. And then more.
It’s a look, in a way, at how people respond to peer pressure, and how they respond to logic and reason. It’s a study in how one person can influence those around him and how some are quick to make up their mind.
But consensus, as in life, doesn’t come without heated exchanges, glares, stares and stubborn pride.
Morgado said if you enjoy watching crime shows and trying to figure out who did it, “this is a great thing for you because straight off the bat you have no idea who is actually right.”
Guilt or innocence seems to become clearer as more points about the case come to light.
“You can challenge yourself to figure it out before everybody else does,” he said. “It’s a great adventure.”
Lauryn calls it an “engaging” production, with the audience almost becoming part of the cast.
“You’re following along and trying to figure it out for yourself and trying to get behind the mystery,” she said. “You’re following along with the thought process. You really get involved in it.”
“We’re having this back and forth with you as well,” she added.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.