Citizens of former British colonies whose legal systems are based on common law indulge in a ritual that is at once sacred and annoying: answering a court’s summons to jury duty. Read: Drop whatever you are doing for an unspecified period of time and allow them to lock you up in a government-issue room, surrounded by 11 other (im)perfect strangers with whom you have little in common except your humanity.
Presumably, all 12 of you have the objectivity to sit in judgment of another – a peer, who has been accused of a crime but who has, in his or her favor, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. You, as juror, must weigh all the evidence and make sure that the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty.
Otherwise, your verdict must be “not guilty.” In a murder trial, this might mean that you hold a life at the tip of your pencil, since the death penalty is still the law of the land in some U.S. states. Jury deliberations have fascinated us for years, and still do.What a thrill to have been a fly on the wall at the O.J. Simpson trial. Back in 1995, all the racial and economic tornados we are seeing today bounced off the walls of that jury room to deliver a “not guilty” that shook the nation.
Remember the bloody-glove mantra, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”?
The original 1954 television drama “12 Angry Men,” by U.S. playwright and television pioneer Reginald Rose, gives us a chance to be just that – flies on the wall at the murder trial of a teenage boy accused of knifing his father to death. All but one of the jurors has made up his mind beforehand and, as soon as they are sequestered, they vote.
The holdout juror is the catalyst for a fascinating journey into the lives and minds of 12 strangers, whose kindness and malice echo our own inner demons and angels.
In 1957, Sydney Lumet directed Henry Fonda and an impressive cast that included Lee J. Cobb and E.G. Marshall in the Oscarnominated movie in which the accused is a Puerto Rican boy. The 1964 stage version did not mention the boy’s ethnicity but alluded to a background of poverty and violence.
The most recent remake is by Russian director Nikita Mikhalov, who in 2007 set his Oscar-nominated movie “12” in a war-torn Chechen town to represent a fragmented Russian society.
The English-language Little Theatre Group will present this explosive courtroom classic with a veteran cast, including Bob Allison, Dennis Atkinson, Grady Bruce, Phil Copeland, Wayne Dawson, Dan Gray, Tom Humes, Ricardo Jiménez, Joseph Loveday, Michael Murphy, Dave Nisson, Harry Towne and Dale Watson, under the direction of Lisa DeFuso, at the Laurence Olivier Theater in San José (Avenida 2, Calle 28, next to Sala Garbo), today through June 1. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. For information and reservations, call 8355-1623 or visit www.littletheatregroup.org.
The May 25 matinee performance will be a special Women’s Club fundraiser to benefit the club’s social and scholarship programs.
Bocas and a cash bar will be offered in the adjoining Shakespeare Bar starting at 1 p.m., and the box office opens at 1:30 p.m. The ticket donation price is ¢6,000 ($12).
For this performance only, contact Mary White at 2265-5085 or email@example.com, or Anne Sobel at 2267-7042 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pilar Saavedra-Vela has been a member of the Little Theatre Group since 2002.