Twelve Angry Jurors, adapted for the stage by Sherman L. Sergel, marks the start of The Justice Theatre Project’s 2023-24 season. Audiences may already be familiar with the 1957 film, Twelve Angry Men, directed by Sidney Lumet and based on the work of Reginald Rose. Though the play was originally written for an all-white male cast, this production boasts a multi-cultural, gender-fluid cast that elevates the power of this play.
It’s a steamy day in New York City. A group of twelve individuals are tasked with deciding the fate of a teenager accused of stabbing his father to death. Two witnesses and a switchblade link him to the crime, a seemingly straightforward, easily rendered, guilty verdict. But one juror has doubts and wants to discuss this life or death decision. The group explodes in disbelief. What follows is not just an argument over a verdict in the case, but an interrogation of how prejudices cloud judgment.
Played out in real time over the course of about ninety minutes, Sergel’s play offers a behind-the-scenes view of the legal system. Director Jerry Sipp has superbly orchestrated the movement of the drama with subtle set changes that shift the audience’s perspective, neatly mirroring the shifts in the views of the jurors. And he has assembled a top-notch ensemble that offers a nearly flawless performance. More importantly, each juror delivers a distinguishable character study that is both painfully familiar as it is resonant.
Juror #8, masterfully played by Laurel Ullman, is the holdout. In a quiet but determined manner, she not only challenges the evidence presented, she also meticulously dismantles the biases that each juror brings to the proceedings, circumscribing the room, like a ceiling fan throwing tension about the fray.
Jim O’Brien delivers a dominant performance as Juror #3, antagonizing Ullman’s character violently at times. Their interactions ratchet up in tension as biases and histories rise to the surface. Passionate speeches in support of democracy and freedom of speech reveal various life experiences that underline decision-making.
Although written in the middle of the last century, this show feels eerily modern given the divisions in American politics today, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the following of a former President who was complicit in plans to overthrow the government. Though some judgments may be too entrenched to be changed, this play is a reminder that sometimes it pays to hold out for truth.
12 Angry Jurors closed October 29. For more information on upcoming Justice Theater Project productions, visit https://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/2324-season-issues-of-our-time.