Directly after a son is tried for the murder of his father, the jury takes its recess and holds an open-eye vote on the boy’s guilt: 11 say “guilty,” one juror says “not guilty.” The jury, of the play 12 Angry Jurors, by Reginald Rose, adapted by Sherman L. Sergel, then dissolves into heated disagreement. 12 Angry Jurors problematizes the reality of democracy in America, the realities of giving every citizen a voice.
Ursinus College’s production of 12 Angry Jurors, directed and produced by Domenick Scudera, premiered Thursday October 5. Joe Simon ’20 enjoyed the performance, commenting,“they may have been locked in that room but the only thing locked for me was my eyes on the performance. Spectacular!” The show depicted how difficult it is to stand alone against other voices, although as Americans, we are allowed to have uncommon opinions.
The set of 12 Angry Jurors was the quintessential American jury room, complete with an American flag, coffee maker and water pitcher. Above the rectangular table, around which the 12 jurors were seated, hung harsh fluorescent lights. There were windows on the wall at the back of the jury door, which Bella Ragomo ’21 as Juror 8, the only juror who insisted on the boy’s innocence, rose to look out of several times. This seemed to say that Juror 8 was the only juror who could see the hope on the horizon, the hope of letting a potentially innocent boy go free to break through the violent situation that he was raised in. The clouds symbolized how many Americans have prejudices ingrained within them and how we must muddle through to find the truth.
The Ursinus production was set in the 1970s to reflect a time when American juries represented a more diverse population than the original play, which was set in the 1950s. The costumes of the jurors reflected the 70s, in addition to reflecting the personal stories of each character. The jurors each had their own unique perspective to bring to the table. Juror 5, played by Art Thomas ’20, talked of knife fights she saw in her backyard. Juror 3, played by Tommy Armstrong ’20, revealed his personal struggles with his own son, and Juror 11, played by Mélanie Larget, spoke of how she came to America in order to have a voice. Faced with the disagreement between the jurors’ differing perspectives, Juror 8’s courage to stand up for her belief in the boy’s innocence personifies democratic spirit.
This fast-paced production draws the audience in with the jurors constantly shouting on top of one another. One of the most powerful moments is when the jurors re-enact the stabbing in order to see how the wound was made. Juror 3, who has been adamant about the boy’s guilt, confessed that he would pull the plug on him if he could and even threatened Juror 8 for trying to prove the boy’s innocence, grabs the killer’s knife and asks for a volunteer to play the father. Juror 8 volunteers, despite, or maybe because of, the constant antagonism of Juror 3 towards her. The entire cast screams as Juror 3 opens the switchblade and stops half-an-inch short of burying it in Juror 8’s chest. The director chose to have the cast work as a whole in many moments such as this, despite their constant bickering. All jurors would turn to face Juror 4, played by Angela Bey ’19, as she explained her theories. They all walked away from the racist tirades of Juror 10, played by Tara-Duncan McLeod ’19, and all they surrounded Juror 3 in intimidation together.
Claire Hughes ’20 praised the performance: “12 Angry Jurors’ combination of amazing sets, acting, and costumes made it one of the best performances I’ve ever seen at Ursinus.” The play’s central question of finding truth in the sea of discordant views remains relevant today, in fact, it is especially important today as Americans are constantly faced with contrasting takes on truth. Sophia DiBattista ’21, who played the Guard, explained, “being a part of this production has been the best journey I could ask for over the last month. The timing of the play was impeccable as well, especially with the recent Kavanaugh hearing and the political climate as a whole. While it is a striking coincidence, I feel that everyone who was a part of it and watched it got something out of it and could relate it to today’s world.” 12 Angry Jurors demonstrates that many Americans are prejudiced, but that the American justice system which gives the power to the people, can sometimes, with much due process, create an opportunity for justice and hope.