12 Angry Jurors, Arena Civic Theatre’s Dramatic Opener

12 Angry Jurors

It’s an open-and-shut case. Someone saw him do it. Well, it is if you ask the angry bald white dude known as Juror #10 (Paul Rothenberg). To him, it’s an easy decision. And to Juror #3, (F. Reed Brown) it’s just so obvious…guilty!

But as we learn over the two acts of Arena Civic Theatre‘s opening production of 12 Angry Jurors, nothing is that easy. The setting for the production, the Perch on the fourth floor of Hawks and Reed, is an intimate space with perfect sightlines in a cozy setting. Director David Peck and Producer Susan Dresser headed up this tight show that had moments of pathos as well as drama.

The set was stark, but with a nice touch…paintings of the view out the window of Hawks and Reed’s Perch, just 12 chairs and four tables where our cast would hash out this important verdict.

Was he guilty?   On the face of it, we had an easy case, one where most people would vote guilty. But when the roll call was tallied, we ended up with an 11-1 verdict. Who was the holdout?  It was Juror #8, (Henry Albin) who raised his hand for not guilty. Albin plays this important role with dignity, wanting in a polite way to just take another look before the jury all agrees to send him off to prison for murder. It’s too important.

12 Angry Jurors
There are just a few things, he continues, in that nice detective way that Colombo would do it. Probing but being reasonable and not pushy.  But Juror #3 (F. Reed Brown) wasn’t having it, and like #10 he wasn’t afraid to puff out his chest and make his blustery point. GUILTY!  How can you not see that? But the cracks began to form and soon it was a different story all together.

But why?

It would take the rest of the play to explain it, but the most compelling reason for #8’s vote to acquit was because we all need more time than a hot minute to declare a person guilty of first-degree murder and send them to the slammer for life. It must be debated, it needs to be looked at, so that’s why we agree with the young guy with the tie. Time out!

Like my friend Colleen told me who once was in the same position in real life, why just go along and vote guilty, without discussion?  Wasn’t this too large of a stake that someone needs to say wait. Take a look. And so it went in the performance, with its stark set showing the 12 jury chairs and the three desks but not much else.

The jury on stage was a classic cross section, we had the stylish pantsuited young woman, the guy with the tie and hat, the ponytailed dude who was very quiet, the immigrant in shortsleeves and a tie, the Volvo-driving young mom, then the concerned senior woman with a gray bun.  It was like a demographic example of America.

The play kept us all involved, and each juror only had a number, we knew no names. One young woman #7 (Bri L’Ecuyer) was particularly upset about what she might be missing outside of the locked jury room, and so she wanted to hurry things along. An 11 to one verdict was not what most of the jurors wanted. Angrily, old bald white dude #10, (Paul Rothenberg) lashed out, as he would do more and more as the play continued, and ramped up the tension with his clipped sarcastic railings directed at his fellow juror.

But the guy with the tie #8 had a point, as he began to question how long it would have taken for the victim, the old man, to get from his bed to the door, and other details.  Slowly, the 11-1 crowd began to change, later a vote reveals a completely different score.  Nobody was going home for a while.  The tension ensued and at the end you realize that everything deserves another look. Especially murder.

12 Angry Jurors continues this weekend. Tickets