There’s an old saying among sculptors that to find art in a block of stone, you have to chip away anything that isn’t art.
Similarly, it can be said of the jury’s deliberations in a capital murder trial: To find a just decision, cut corners on anything that isn’t justice. Remove prejudices. Remove impatience. Remove preconceived notions. Remove racism.
This Friday, Theatrikos Theater Company kicks off its 50th season with a production of the timeless classic “12 Angry Jurors.” The production, originally a TV movie written in 1954 by Reginald Rose as “Twelve Angry Men”, was later adapted for the stage and to be more inclusive and diverse in casts over the years.
“We talk about our democratic way,” said production manager Bob Yowell, a retired professor emeritus of theater at Northern Arizona University who has more than 50 years of experience. “Everyone has the right to a jury trial, and it is the duty of the prosecution to prove guilt.”
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In the ’12 Angry Jurors’ case, the prosecution presented evidence to 12 average citizens in a capital murder trial, where a young man is accused of stabbing his father to death. If the jury finds that the prosecution has proven the case “beyond a reasonable doubt”, they must find the young man guilty of the crime.
Chris Verrill, executive director of Theatrikos, said the production was chosen after the artistic committee visited audience members from years past and asked them which productions they would like to see again as part of the 50th season.
“We’ve been bringing back the best of the best for 50 years,” Verrill said. “This one was near the top of the list.”
Yowell said he was excited to direct the play. He is a huge fan of the film, which stars Henry Fonda among others, as it tackles many of the country’s societal narratives that were highly relevant then and still are today.
“It’s been done all over the world, because it’s a great script,” Yowell said. “It’s about the fragility of democracy and how thoughtful people must bravely work to preserve and protect it.”
The production stars Jan Rominger as Jury Foreman, Amanda Delano as Juror 2, Suzanne Casale as Juror 3, Linda Sutera as Juror 4, Mackenzie Johnson as Juror 5, Emily Dale as as juror 6, AJ Maniglia as juror 7, Lisa Jayne as juror. 8, Sel Wasson as juror 9, Chris Verrill as juror 10, Lina Wallen as juror 11, Mark Dessauer as juror 12 and Austin Aslan as guard. During rehearsals, the cast and crew wore masks, but they will perform maskless during performances.
The premise is as follows: when the first vote is cast to determine the young man’s guilt, 11 of the jurors vote to convict, and one juror, juror 8, stands alone in a vote to acquit. What ensues is an exploration of how the system can be prevented from working for justice when personal agendas – instead of evidence presented by the prosecution – are put to use.
“It’s really, really tense,” said Lisa Jayne, who plays Juror 8. “It’s a tricky one to get people to question their motives.”
As the play progresses, votes change, tempers flare, and the ugliness of racism rears its head. The main focus of the guilty verdict still remains with juror 3, played by Suzanne Casale.
“She has baggage that colors her life,” Casale said of her character. “There is a preconceived idea of guilt. A poor urban minority – of this milieu he is more than likely to blame.
Jayne said the play, although written over five decades ago, is relevant today.
“Even when people are faced with facts, it’s hard to change their minds and overcome biases,” Jayne said. “I think all the time I’m doing this, it’s so relevant to… now.”
Casale said, “It’s an important theme of justice and injustice, of prejudice and how people’s bigotry can come into play when making judgments about life and death.”
Jan Rominger, who plays the jury foreman, compares the character to a referee.
“How a group of people can start out disagreeing and then turn that disagreement into consensus is very relevant today, where we’re so divided,” Rominger said.
Yowell and Rominger praised the ensemble cast and their passion for their roles.
“I hope the audience likes the ensemble element, in that we all rehearsed together for every rehearsal, which is unusual,” Rominger said.
Yowell added: “The final analysis is ambiguous. There is no Hollywood ending here.
“12 Angry Jurors” will run from Friday, January 28 through Sunday, February 13. Friday and Saturday performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinees will be at 2:00 p.m. at the Doris Harper-White Community Playhouse, 11 W. Cherry Ave. Tickets cost between $20 and $26 and buyers must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours before the event. Wearing a mask is compulsory. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://theatrikos.com.