Most of us remember the movie Twelve Angry Men as a gritty, black-and-white drama centering on jury deliberations in a homicide trial. The jurors are not named, but numbered, and Henry Fonda plays Juror #8 who gradually persuades the other eleven jurors that there is reasonable doubt. The lengthy and intense deliberation exposes the biases of individuals with a volatile mixture of backgrounds and personalities, most of which seem remarkably fresh despite the fact that the play was written sixty years ago.
In the 1957 movie, as in the original stage play, all of the jurors are men; some states prohibited women from serving on juries as late as 1971. In East Lansing High School’s upcoming version, re-titled Twelve Angry Jurors, times have changed. More than half of the jurors are women, including the pivotal role of Juror #8, played by senior Samantha White.
The East Lansing production, which opens tonight, is directed by Mark Shaheen. Cast members include White, Claire McCabe, Samuel Sprague, Joseph Harris, Maura Last, Madeline Gilstrap, John Paul Miller-Purrenhage, Monica Bian, Ndegwa McCloud, Angelique Josephine, Savannah Sodeman and Nick Buechler. The set is simply the brick-walled jury room containing a table and chair, and the show runs without intermission in order to sustain the tension of deliberations.
Buechler, an East Lansing senior, plays the only non-juror roles: the security officer, and the judge who is never actually seen by the audience. This gives him a unique perspective as the only cast member attending all rehearsals and watching the dramatized deliberations from the outside. “It’s all about peoples’ prejudices,” says Buechler, “all these different kinds of people come in with their own ideas based on stuff in their own past.”
According to Buechler, cast members were told by director Shaheen that he had no preconceived notions about which characters would be played by a male or female student, “he just put each person in the part that he thought was the best fit for them.”
Twelve Angry Jurors will be presented at the East Lansing High School Auditorium, located at 509 Burcham Drive in East Lansing. Performances will be November 20 at 7 pm, November 21 and 22 at 7:30 pm, and November 23 at 2 pm. Tickets for all shows are $5.00 and may be purchased at the door.