The Anne Arundel Community College theater department is currently presenting “12 Angry Jurors” at the Pascal Center for Performing Arts.
The original screenplay was written in 1955 by Reginald Rose, based on the writer’s own experience as a juror.
Seventy years after its original release, “12 Angry Jurors” is as relevant today as it was when written “because we are human,” said Madeline Austin, director and theater department faculty member. The AACC adaptation is set in 1967.
“I love Voltaire’s line, ‘History never repeats itself. Man always does,’” Austin said. “One of the best things about Rose’s original screenplay is that the jurors begin to acknowledge their prejudices and are changed for the better by their experiences in the jury room.”
The drama takes place in a jurors’ room where 12 people with diverse backgrounds and experiences must decide the fate of a 19-year-old boy accused of murdering his abusive father. It is a lens into the justice system, how difficult it is to stand alone and how hard it is to change people’s minds, especially those with deep-seated beliefs.
Austin said she’s grateful the justice system presumes innocence and that to render a guilty verdict, there must be no reasonable doubt, and the verdict must be unanimous.
“Theater reflects us, or as Shakespeare so eloquently wrote, the ‘purpose of playing’ is ‘to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature.’ The stories we tell are not always pretty, but that is our job as artists,” Austin added. “Artists are transgressive, and our job as storytellers is to speak the words truthfully. Even in older works, the stories told through theater can seem just as relevant and current as to what is happening today.”
Audiences can expect a fast ride with an exceptional cast. The entire show is just 90 minutes with one scene and no breaks, a fact that posed unique challenges.
“As a director, I have to watch all of the actors at the same time,” Austin said. “Everyone is onstage together. When the curtain goes up, we’ve got one shot.”
Why are the jurors angry? The actors have opinions.
“It’s hot, it’s middle summer in New York City,” said Chris Waurdo, who plays juror nine. “There is a bit of racial tension going on. We’ve just sat through three days of confusing testimony. We all have opinions, some more deeply rooted than others based on their own conditions in life, so we just really want to get out of here.”
Juror seven, played by Jackson Darrow, has Yankees tickets and it’s getting close to gametime. A swift guilty verdict will get him out of the courtroom faster so he can get to the game.
“A baseball game is more important to this juror than getting the verdict right,” Darrow said. “He’s willing to throw out a life just to get to see the Yankees play.”
Eliza Geib noted that juror 10 has many issues — she’s bigoted, she’s hot, she has a house full of kids at home, and she is sure her husband isn’t taking care of them properly.
“She’s positive someone from a slum background is capable of this kind of violence,” Geib said. “She just wants to get out of there.”
Jana Naylor, juror 11, raved about her cast and director.
“Madeline is an amazing director and a fantastic professor,” Naylor said. “It’s awesome to watch her direct and see how the show is formed as she helps us figure out our characters. She lets us try different things and is very open to the actors providing ideas and input.”
Juror six, portrayed by Erik Binnix, is acting in his third play under Austin.
“Madeline allows and encourages actors to take control and make big, bold choices for their characters,” Binnix said. “Of course, she has a vision of what she wants the show to be, and she’s incredible at guiding actors to define their characters, define their actions and make the show theirs, but use her knowledge and expertise to guide actors in the right direction.”
Tickets to “12 Angry Jurors” can be purchased at www.aacc.edu/campus-life/attend-a-performance.