Amid a single set that accurately mimics the claustrophobia of a jury room, 12 jurors decide the fate of one young man who is accused of stabbing and killing his father. A cut-and-dry case deepens in complexity as throughout the production at Aux Dog Theatre, human nature and how it impacts justice as we know it is called provocatively into question. Racism, groupthink and apathy are pulled into glaring focus as the play wears on.
12 Angry Jurors (updated from the original title, 12 Angry Men) was first made for television, premiering in 1954. The show later spawned a multitude of screen and stage adaptations. Despite being written more than 60 years ago, 12 Angry Jurors remains topical in the time of Eric Garner, James Boyd, Brock Turner and too many others—the justice system is under an intense amount of scrutiny and 12 Angry Jurors illustrates some reasons why auditing the system as it stands remains vitally important. As a pensive Juror Eight is ever-quick to point out, the stakes are high—a person's life is at stake.
That life belongs to an unnamed “kid from the slums.” As the 12 hot, tired and largely indifferent jurors shuffle onto the set at the beginning of the play, 11 out of 12 of them vote that the kid is unequivocally guilty, but what qualifies as “reasonable doubt” when someone's life is at stake? That's what the only dissenting juror—Juror Eight—asks the irritated group of his peers. As they are unpacked, their reasons are frequently revealed to be rooted in apathy, bigotry or the plain, stifling inability to think for themselves when faced with the burden of consensus. Juror Eight (played thoughtfully by Richard Boehler) is taxed with a conscience, and his doubt eventually sways many of those in the jury.
Deconstructed with depth in Director Joann Danella's production, the details of the murder prove to have wider implications beyond the courtroom, exposing some of the assumptions, inequalities and biases that are a very real part of the American experience, particularly for people of color and the economically disadvantaged. Juror 10 (played so hate-ably by Heather Donovan) is a flagrant racist and, while the defendant's race is never explicitly stated, she spouts things like, “You know how they are” which reveals the root of her motivations. Juror 10 is buoyed by the loudmouth vagaries of the Trump-ean Juror 3, who is unable to express the reasons why she believes the defendant is guilty, but remains steadfast that he is, her conviction driven by a strong undercurrent of emotion.
The tension builds and the jury vacillates until a decision is reached and the curtains close, but the real work of the play comes in the aftermath, when the audience is sent home to think about the ramifications of these deliberations that usually happen behind closed doors—meditating on that can have a chilling effect. Watch and deliberate for yourself during the final run of the short-lived show this weekend—June 24-26. Visit auxdog.com for time and ticket details.