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By Ellis Conklin
It is 1957, a hot summer day in New York City. Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat is soon to become that year’s best-seller, DAMN YANKEES has crowds pouring into Broadway theaters, the Giants and Dodgers are playing their final season in the Big Apple, and, in a few months, the world will change forever when the Soviet Union launches Sputnik-1, the earth’s first artificial satellite.
Meanwhile, on this sweltering late afternoon, a gripping, suspenseful courtroom drama is unfolding inside a claustrophobic New York jury room, giving a startled audience a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how jury deliberations take place during a murder trial.
12 ANGRY MEN was initially broadcast as a television play in 1954 and proved so popular that it was adapted for the stage. Three years later the acclaimed Hollywood director Sidney Lumet directed the well-received screen adaptation of 12 ANGRY MEN, starring Henry Fonda.
A 19-year-old man, a tenement-dwelling Hispanic, has just gone through a six-day trial for the fatal stabbing of his father. “He doesn’t stand a chance,” mutters the guard as the 12 jurors are led into a bleak, sweltering jury room.
It looks like an open-and-shut case – until one of the
jurors begin sowing seeds of reasonable doubt in the others’ eyes.
Tempers flare, arguments grow heated, and the jurors, several of who nearly come to blows, become 12 angry jurors!
At the outset of deliberations on this stifling summer afternoon, 11 jurors deliver “guilty” verdicts and only one submits a verdict of “not guilty.”
Juror #8, masterfully played by Sue Neuer, urges the others to rethink their position and to take their time doing so – this despite impatient and clownish Juror #7’s (Jon Helzer) plea that he has tickets to see DAMN YANKEES on Broadway and wants this ordeal to end sooner than later.
But, argues Neuer, “a young life is at stake”. Neuer demonstrates that the murder weapon – a switchblade – is hardly as unique as the prosecution claimed, and the eldest Juror, #9 (Ellis Conklin) shocks his fellow jurors by joining her in a “not guilty” vote.
Soon, Juror No. 5 (Walter Mills) also changes his verdict to “not guilty,” and slowly but surely the dominos fall in favor of the 19-year-old.
In the end, those that will not abide by any evidence that perhaps creates reasonable doubt are Juror #3, Bryan Churchill, who delivers a mesmerizing performance, Juror #4, Bryonie Arnold, and Juror #10, Jacob Merwin, who,
unlike the other jurors, demonstrates no real change in character and remains tainted by unbridled, unremorseful racism.
The juror’s final verdict and how they reach it will electrify audiences and keep them on the edge of their seats and adds up to a fine, mature piece of dramatic literature that is not to be missed.
In essence, this is a play about 12 people in charge of deciding, not the guilt or innocence of this young man, but only whether there is reasonable doubt.
If there is one underlying theme to 12 ANGRY JURORS, it may be that anything is possible. As Juror #9 wisely puts it during one memorable scene in Act 2, he says of Juror #8’s decision early on to become the lone “not guilty” vote: “It takes a great deal of courage to stand alone
even if you believe in something very strongly.”
Tickets for the 9-performances are available now and you don’t want to miss this!
12 ANGRY JURORS
By Reginald Rose
Directed by Frank Squillo
Performed by Riverbend Players Community Theater.
Cast members: Juli Stratton (Juror #1 / foreman), Linda Ollson (Juror #2), Bryan Churchill (Juror #3), Bryonie Arnold (Juror #4, Walter Mills (Juror #5), Tom Mattia
(Juror #6), Jon Helzer (Juror #7), Sue Neuer (Juror #8), Ellis Conklin (Juror #9), Jacob Merwin (Juror #10), Linda Makohon (Juror #11), Mark Bartrom Juror #12), Linda Petersen, (the bailiff) and Nico Lopez (the defendant).
Location: North County Recreation District’s Performing Arts Center at 36155 9th St, Nehalem, OR.
Time: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:00 pm, Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm.
Tickets: $20 and $25. Available online, or at the door.
Cast rehearsal photo ©Riverbend Players.