'12 Angry Jurors' holds a mirror to the American legal process — and an audience of peers
The Community Players Theatre opens "12 Angry Jurors" on Friday night, a dramatic play based on Reginald Rose's teleplay “12 Angry Men.”
The Westinghouse-produced one-act aired on CBS in 1954 and was subsequently expanded into the 1957 feature film directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda, Lee Cobb, Ed Begley and Jack Warden, to name a few.
A contemporary adaptation presented by Community Players Theatre (directed by Jeff Ready) features a multigenerational, multiracial, gender-neutral cast, while unveiling the triumphs and fallacies of the American judicial system. The dramatic play begins at the end of a murder trial in which a teenager with a rough upbringing stands accused of murdering his father.
A jury of peers is tasked with deciding the boy's fate—one of whom is Community Players newcomer Mia Carrillo. As Juror #2, Carrillo struggles to make a ruling of guilty or not guilty, despite most jurors beginning their deliberations convinced of the boy’s guilt.
“She’s a little bit unsure of herself,” Carrillo said of her character. “She doesn’t really know which side is the correct one.”
Carrillo relates to Juror #2's indecision—particularly when a young man’s life is on the line. In the play’s opening lines, the judge reminds jurors that they hold the accused’s life in their hands, with the defendant facing execution as punishment for allegedly killing his father.
“I second guess everything and I’m super scared all the time,” Carrillo said. She moved to Bloomington-Normal for the year to live with family while applying to master’s degree programs in acting. “She’s definitely similar to me in that way.”
As the 12 jurors embark on a heated debate about the evidence—and presumed character of the accused—audience members are also forced to confront their own biases and assumptions. The unnamed, unseen defendant is from a rough neighborhood. He’s a “bad kid” who got in trouble and was sent to reform school. Several jurors thus jump to the conclusion that he must be a murderer.
“That’s a big part of the discussion,” said Carrillo. “There are some jurors that are basing their entire decision off of who he is. With the audience coming into our brains, they might even be faced with some of their own prejudices.”
A diverse cast brings more nuance and complexity to a play that could otherwise feel dated and monolithic. Carrillo says Community Players' actors infuse bits of their own identities into their roles.
“Having a diverse cast 100% changes the way this play is going to be received by the audience,” she said. “There are jurors that relate to this kid on trial. The way that race and gender identity play into our acting elevates the play.”
While “12 Angry Jurors” shines a discerning microscope on the American legal process, it is ultimately an optimistic view, framed around one juror’s perspective as an immigrant invested in due process and a fair trial.
“I have always thought that a man was entitled to have unpopular opinions in this country,” said George Voskovec as Juror #11 in Rose’s original teleplay. “This is the reason I came here.”
Voskovec was a Czech actor and director who earned American citizenship in 1955.
“Both of my parents are immigrants,” Carrillo said. “This is a story that’s near and dear to my heart. We bring our own personal experiences into our characters and I think that plays a part in making this show alive.”
“12 Angry Jurors” runs through Jan. 14 at Community Players Theatre, 201 Robinhood Lane, Bloomington. Tickets are $9-$17 at communityplayers.org.