So proud of my students

Twelve Angry Jurors Motif Magazine Review

TWELVE ANGRY JURORS rule at Beacon Charter High School

These high-schoolers make quite a case that JUSTICE is more than a tacky tween clothes store

by Marilyn A. Busch

 

Reginald Rose’s granddaddy of all courtroom dramas Twelve Angry Jurors is quite an interesting acting and staging challenge for even the most mature of groups to tackle. Originally airing on television in 1954, and adapted by Sherman Sergel, the script is more commonly known as Twelve Angry Men. My memories of the play and the motion picture are starkly claustrophobic visions of a sweatbox filled with cigarette smoke and the bluster of twelve white men fueled by entitlement and testosterone.

 

How on earth can something this dated be relevant today? What does a script dissecting gang mentality, Americans’ deep rooted bigotry and prejudices against immigrants matched against the the sheer fragility of our justice system….Oh wait…I see what you did there…well played, director Jason Robert LeClair and company, well played.

 

Remarkably this 60-year-old script comes across with the same “ripped from the headlines” feel as any Law & Order episode. In 2015, our culture is still mired in a sweeping distrust of “the other,” and the loudest voices controlling popular opinion, leaving the masses in a resigned chorus of “What can I do about it? I’m only one person.”

 

The play opens with the voice of a judge (Brian Hickey) booming out in the darkness to remind those assembled of their shared civic duty to reach a unified agreement as to the accused man’s fate. Court guard Gabriel Jolicouer ushers the twelve into a room to deliberate and locks the door behind him. Reasonable doubt is briefly mentioned, but a guilty verdict seems a foregone conclusion, based on the eyewitness testimony from neighbors. Eager to be finished with the trial and get back to their homes in time for dinner, the Forewoman (ably portrayed by Destinie Reyes) calls for an immediate vote and –surprise– there is one lone dissenter in the form of seemingly timid Juror 8. Carissa Fortier turns in a clear and intelligent take on the role, urging the group at least discuss the case once through before they decide to end a man’s life.

 

The rest of the group soon show their true colors – first the two lone men in the group immediately challenge her with their steadfast opinions on how this should all go down. Juror 3 (played with great depth and range of emotion by Jean-Michel Pion) emerges as the main opposition to any further discussion to the boy’s case and remains the toughest obstacle throughout the rest of the play. He is backed by the equally bombastic and unapologetically racist Juror 10, who comes to the table with what seems like years of bigotry and fear of “them” (the unnamed ethic/religious group that the accused belongs to.) Dylan McMahon handles the hot-headed character well and delivers his scenes and sense of outrage realistically and honestly.

Juror 8 (Fortier) calmly stands her ground against the tide of opposition and slowly begins to start the discussion. She meticulously examines the story as put forth by the prosecution in logical detail. Their job is not to prove his innocence, she points out, or to solve who actually committed the crime. Their job is simply to prove to each other and themselves that he is truly guilty.

What follows is a very realistic series of scenes where the jurors try to sort through what they were told to believe, what they know for sure and then start to fill in what parts may have been left out of the story. The cast does a uniformly strong job of vividly retelling the court proceedings through the filter of their own opinions and biases. The script is as equally demanding of those on stage to be actively listening to the arguments, mulling over the debates unfolding in front of them and also interrupting when necessary to express their opinions. Timing is everything and this cast’s is impeccable.

 

As the debate wages on the Jurors each have their moment to shine, Juror 11 (Janeida Turbi) is lovely as a resilient refugee who reminds us all of why we are fortunate to have the American justice system in the first place, Juror 12 (Abby Morris) is continually bringing the topic back around to herself and her energetic pronouncements that she “is in advertising!” and the snippily antagonistic Juror 7 (Brynne Clark) manages to have a back handed retort for everyone and everything.

 

Soon others are opening up to the discussion and the tides start to turn towards a possible agreement of reasonable doubt – the first to change their vote is the elderly Juror 9 (played by Hannah Lennox, bringing a nice sense of wisdom and maturity to the role), mild mannered Juror 6 (Elizabeth Woodie), and Cooper Chimene, whose Juror 2 starts out as a timid ball of nerves that manages to fight through her character’s stutter and apprehension to find her voice.

 

Mary Servino as Juror 5 has some nice moments as she empathizes with not only to the defendant’s upbringing, and surprisingly flashes some straight-up gangster knife skills. QuessSymphonee Johnson’s Juror 4 stands tall in her firm belief in the testimony of the prosecution’s eyewitnesses. Her vocal quality and maturity of tone were lovely – a welcome reminder that women need not succumb to that croaky “vocal fry/upspeak” popular culture curse.

 

My hat is off to director LeClair and Beacon Charter School faculty and students as their commitment to mastering their craft and love of storytelling is truly apparent from the quality theater that they are putting on the stage.

 

Twelve Angry Jurors will be performed on Saturday, November 21 at 7:00pm and Sunday, November 22 at 2:00pm at the Beacon Charter High School for the Arts, 320 Main Street, Woonsocket (across from the Stadium Theatre). Performances are on the 3rd floor in the Beacon Theatre Workshop and this show is not recommended for children under 13. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and available at the door and at www.brownpapertickets.com

 

 

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