The verdict is still out on this year’s Clarke County Public Schools theatre department production of Twelve Angry Jurors, however, the evidence so far indicates a performance that will keep audiences riveted to their seats.
Director Christine Brewer says this season’s stage adaptation of Reginald Rose’s television show, “Twelve Angry Men” challenges twelve jurors locked in a jury room to decide the fate of a young man accused of stabbing and killing his father. Although none of her student performers is old enough to have ever participated on a jury, Brewer says that the young actors draw on other life experiences to help understand the emotions motivating each juror.
“In today’s world kids watch shows like Law & Order so they already had a feel for what a jury does,” Brewer said before rehearsal on Wednesday afternoon. “In class discussions students have to deal with disagreements and debate, so they understand how difficult it can sometimes be to change someone’s point of view. What’s really instructive about this story is that twelve people who have no previous relationship with each other are thrown into a room together to decide the fate of a person’s life. It’s interesting to see the leaders and the followers develop as the story unfolds.”
In the play, tempers flair and nerves wear thin as the verdict deliberations drag on. The story revolves around Juror 8, played by Danny McGrath, the one hold out who keeps the “guilty” verdict from being unanimous. Juror 8 is pressured to agree with the group but resists the easy choice by challenging other jurors to look beyond their own needs and stereotypes in considering the accused man’s innocence.
Brewer’s selection of a dramatic production for this fall’s performance, rather than a musical, is part of her continuing effort to provide acting opportunities to students who don’t necessarily have singing and dancing skills, but still want to act.
The students in this fall’s performance appreciate the choice.
“I think that a drama’s more fun because I can’t sing or dance,” laughed leading man Danny McGrath who plays reluctant Juror 8.
Other cast member’s agreed with McGrath, but offered different reasons.
“I think that a dramatic play is good because it makes you think more,” said Jackie O’Hara.
Addison Peacock, who plays final holdout Juror 3 opposite McGrath, agreed.
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“It feels like you reach a deeper connection with the audience,” Peacock said. “Drama is more serious and less sensational. In the end the audience gets to decide what they think.”
“Anyone who isn’t a strong singer really appreciates what Ms. Brewer is doing,” said juror Meredeth Levy.
Like the jury in Twelve Angry, audiences will be presented with a range of social issues to consider. One big issue that the play tackles, according to actor Jacob Genda, is disparities in the justice system based on race.
“The accused man is black, but all of the jurors are white,” Genda pointed out. “If someone from the inner city is accused of something a lot of people may automatically believe that they’re guilty.”
Bradley Braithwaite agreed.
“It isn’t right, but I think that it happens every day,” Braithwaite said. “The murder happens in a dark hallway, the accused man has a history of arrests. Everyone wants to believe that he did it.”
Another juror, Nikki Zuleger, said that the play raises issues about fairness that are prevalent in today’s society.
“Whenever you meet someone you have decide what you think of them based on the information that you are given,” Zuleger said. “It may not be fair, but when has society ever been fair? We all have thoughts and opinions that aren’t easy to change.”
Brewer said that while she recognizes that audiences respond positively to musicals, she also believes that there is a place for dramatic productions. Last fall Brewer staged Thorton Wilder’s stage classic, “Our Town,” in part to honor small town life in Clarke County, Virginia.
“I hope that our audiences like the production,” Brewer said. “It’s not as flashy as a musical, but I think that it’s nice to have something different now and then. There are lots of kids out there who want to act but aren’t musical. For the kids who are musical this production offers a chance to challenge their acting skills.”
Twelve Angry Jurors opens Friday, November 4th at 7:00 pm at the Williams Community Auditorium at Johnson-Williams Middle School in Berryville, Virginia. The production will also be performed on Saturday, November 5th at 7:00 pm with a 2:30 pm matinee on Sunday, November 6th.
The show, under the direction of CCHS theatre instructor Christine Brewer, features a cast of 14 middle and high school students including Jacob Genda, Meredith Levy, Addison Peacock, Kelsey Rosier, Jackie O’Hara, Bradly Braithwaite, Nikki Zuleger, Danny McGrath, Camille Minehart, Quinn Chatham, Samantha Schneeman, Rachel Dors, Jesse Robinson, Jennifer Gillenwater and Jay Helinski.
Ticket prices are $10.00 for adults, $5.00 for students. CCPS employees are admitted free.
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