|The set door to PVHS' production of 12 Angry Jurors. Photo by J. Berta|
Sunday, February 26, 2017
The last two evenings, I had a wonderful experience. I watched my daughter Cassie perform in the Pleasant Valley High School production of 12 Angry Jurors. It was terrific! At the curtain call, we all stood up and applauded. Now if one were to indict me as a biased parent, I'd plead guilty, of course I am. Yet at my sentencing hearing, I'd offer as...mitigating facts THE fact that this was an amazing show put on by an incredibly talented cast.
|The program from Pleasant Valley High School's production of "12 Angry Jurors." Photo, J. Berta.|
For those of you not familiar with the story, here's a brief overview: An 18-year-old from the slums is accused of murdering his father with a switchblade knife. As the show opens, the judge is heard offstage giving the final jury instructions. A court bailiff opens the door to the jury room and in file 12 people. They have a task before them- to determine the fate of the defendant.
This play is an adaptation of the famous 1957 movie, 12 Angry Men. Henry Fonda plays the lone hold out against an otherwise unanimous jury voting for conviction. This is the role my daughter plays. In the program, her character has no name, only a number, Juror #8. Her description, "The Truth-seeker."
|Henry Fonda, Juror #8, with the alleged murder weapon (a switchblade knife) from the original 12 Angry Men, original photo unknown, this photo taken by J. Berta, fair use claimed.|
This show has earned a place in both in our popular culture and society. This is what happens when a story has relevance to the larger aspects of our lives. I found this article from The Guardian on how a former juror related this movie to his experience. Dr. Brian Bornstein wrote about this show in Psychology Today. He sums up the show this way, discussing how the use of the word, "angry" is not precisely accurate, yet important to explaining the show:
"Angry. This is a misnomer, even for the play itself. Only one, maybe two, of the jurors are genuinely angry, though most of them are at times frustrated, passionate, or troubled. Studies of actual jurors show that the two most common emotions are probably engagement and boredom. These seem like polar opposites, but of course cases vary widely, as do the interests and personalities of individual jurors. As in the play, the overwhelming majority of actual jurors take their job seriously and strive to be conscientious and fair."
If you love, or even like theater, this is a great play. It's great because for this show to work (and it worked both nights) all of the cast has to be in sync. Please allow me to explain.
Unlike most shows where characters go on and off stage, the twelve jurors are in the same place for the entire show. As one might surmise, it is a jury room. As the audience, we are given the treat of getting to sit up close as this show was in the Black Box Theater. Unlike a traditional theater with a raised stage, in this setting, the audience is on the same level as the actors (with the exception of the rows further back that are slightly raised to be able to see.) For a show like this, it makes for an amazing theater experience. From where I was sitting, I could see this quite clearly.
|The Jury Table from 12 Angry Jurors. Photo by J. Berta.|
There are other unique features of this play. With the exception of the Bailiff, the other actors, (the jurors) are all on stage for the entire show. I cannot recall seeing another show that uses this technique.
So what you have is a show in an intimate setting and with everyone on stage at the same time. After seeing the show twice, I had the luxury of getting to focus on the individual characters and their acting. Mr. Francis Dunbar, the show's director, made great efforts to ensure that the characters were communicating without saying a word. A piercing glance, a gesture, a sigh, even a cough. All of this contributed to making for a great show and terrific theater experience.
If there is a takeaway from the show is the importance of standing for one's beliefs. As with most criminal trials tried to a jury, there must be a unanimous vote to reach a verdict. In 12 Angry Jurors, the first vote is 11-1 for conviction. The lone holdout is Juror #8.
Unlike other shows which take a while to build tension, this show is a sports car, going from "zero-to-60" in a blink of an eye. Some of the jurors are furious at this holdout, others surprised and a few not sure what should happen next.
Without giving the show away, I'll simply say that this is a tale of courage. A couple of times during the show, Juror #9, The Old Man, says: "It takes courage to stand alone." And it does.
Yet I would argue that there are many forms of courage. Along with standing alone there is the courage to change one's mind when the facts force the issue. What is so fascinating to me about this show is the view we get of these jurors, what matters to them, their pride, their prejudices, their fears and yes, their nobility.
I've been a lawyer for almost 23 years. In that time, I've come to the conclusion that as imperfect as the American justice system is, there is likely no other better (and practical option.) Do guilty people go free and commit other crimes? Yes. Are innocent people wrongly convicted and subjected to unjust confinement? Sure. There are ample examples of the inequities of our system of justice. If I was forced to name one reason why this occurs is that we, as individuals, are not computers. Even with our best efforts to be honest and fair and just, sometimes we miss something. I believe Marcus Aurelius said it best: "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."
Most of us will not have to bear the burden of the jurors in 12 Angry Jurors. We will not have a person's life in our hands. Yet we all will, at some time and in some place, be confronted with a choice. The choice of going along with the crowd or saying "no," or even, "not yet." We will have to decide if we have the courage to stand alone.
And when we do, there will not be an audience applauding for us when it's over.
Be well my friends,