It used to be known as 12 Angry Men – but it’s as 12 Angry Jurors that Reginald Rose’s stage adaptation of his 1954 teleplay is being presented at Southridge Senior School this week (Feb. 19-21).
The obvious change is that the jurors in this version of the tense drama surrounding a murder trial – and the behind the scenes conflict as they discuss the innocence or guilt of the accused – are both male and female characters, allowing plenty of scope for the dramatic chops of the school’s keen theatre students.
Judging by a run-through of scenes last week, this intense staged-in-the-round production highlights their considerable talents in handling more realistic, gritty fare after the fantasy and theatricality of the school’s last two major presentations (My Fair Lady and Into The Woods).
Drama department head Glen Pope said this production has been updated to the 1970s for several reasons.
“In the 1950s, they didn’t have women as jurors,” he said. “But we didn’t want to move it too far ahead. A lot of the same prejudices that were there in the 1950s still existed in the ’70s, even though things were changing. It was on the cusp, if you will.
“We also thought it would be a fun era to play with, as far as both attitudes and costumes.”
More than a dramatic exercise, or a recreation of a past era, the play, at core, is still relevant for today’s audiences, Pope said.
“A lot of prejudices, issues and assumptions haven’t gone away in our ‘politically correct’ world,” he said. “They still resonate today, even if not in exactly the same way.”
Grade 12 student Spencer Reichert, who plays Juror 6 – and as ‘drama steward’ serves as multi-tasked assistant to Pope – explains that a young man, on trial for allegedly stabbing his own father to death, is the trigger for an emotional reaction from many of the jurors, basing their attitudes on stereotypes.
“The boy is a slum kid,” he said. “Juror 10 is a complete bigot in general and has no trouble seeing him as guilty, while Juror 5 – who’s lived in a slum all her life – grew up looking at knife fights. She can relate to him, she feels a lot of sympathy for him.”
The cleverness of Rose’s script, which became a celebrated movie in 1957, is that nothing is absolutely explained – and no-one is painted absolutely right or wrong. And at the end, it’s up to the audience, just like the jury, to decide what to believe.
“We are all hindered by personal bias,” observed Grade 12 Nirvon Soraya-Galo, who plays Juror 8.
“We’re all hindered when deciding about a man’s life – we literally have a man’s life in our hands.”
Grade 11 student Elijah Hewer explained that his character – Juror 3 – is one of the more volatile and argumentative members of the jury.
“He doesn’t deal well with trying to form an opinion – and he never believes anyone else,” he says. “He wants to get his opinion across, and only his.”
By contrast, Juror 8 is open to examining all the evidence in what is largely a circumstantial case – and it’s her stubborn adherence to this principle that is a catalyst for the drama, Soraya-Galo said.
“She’s the voice – almost – of reason against prejudice. She’s concerned that everybody give the evidence a chance,” she said.
“As a person, apart from the play, I do believe profoundly in everybody being treated equally – I feel it wasn’t such a huge reach for me as his part is for Elijah.”
But while Hewer acknowledges that Juror 3 is naturally disposed to be combative, he said he has developed empathy for the character during the course of rehearsals for the play, which began in October.
“There are parts of Juror 3 I very much understand,” he said. “He’s very conflicted. It’s not so much that he’s a bully, but he feels he is an outcast and he fights it so much. He’s an older man and he’s seen a lot of things in his life, things he hasn’t wanted to see, and he has a family that is always on his mind. Something is always bringing him down. A son accused of killing his father really resonates with him, but his personal frustrations get in the way of this.”
Reichert explains that Juror 6 is very much a man caught in the middle of the explosive emotions around him.
“As opposed to Juror 3 and Juror 8, he’s more of a timid character. Those two have their opinions formulated and they live by them. He’s more in conflict with himself.”
The play runs Thursday to Saturday with performances at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. each day at the school, 2656 160 St.
For tickets and more information, call the school at 604-535-5056.