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Fall Play Delivers

Scott Selmer

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Minneapolis College’s production of 12 Angry Jurors captured all the suspense and drama that can occur in a jury room where twelve relative strangers are compelled to come together to perform their sworn civic duty to decide the fate of the individual accused of committing the crime of murder.

The play was co-sponsored by Minneapolis College and Metropolitan State University. It was performed at the beautiful Whitney Fine Arts Center located on the Minneapolis College campus, 1501 Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis.

In 12 Angry Jurors, the acting by the performers conveyed the tension, anger, frustration and variable ranges of emotions the jurors experienced and endured in their individual quest to determine the accused’s fate.

Realism overtook acting as the principal performers’ mastery of their parts effectively communicated their respective reasons and reasoning processes.

The play involves twelve jurors sequestered together in a locked jury room assigned to determine the guilt or innocence of a teenage boy accused of murdering his father.

Guilt by American Jurisprudence requires unanimous agreement. Anything less results in a hung jury which, would dictate redoing the trial with different a whole new panel of jurors at the expense of the state (public taxpayer expense) or the prosecutor’s discretionary dismissal of the entire case. A unanimous guilty verdict could result in the execution of the teenage boy.

The stage setting consisted of a large vacant room whose focal center was an austere large tan wood table with twelve straight-back tan wood chairs. Three framed photos of white men adorned the white egg-shell white walls, otherwise, the room was sparse.

The first scene opened with the only door to a room being unlocked and opened toward the audience by a big African American courtroom bailiff who stepped aside and allowed the jurors to file single file into the room. Some jury members walked in silently while others entered and immediately expressed their opinions about the room, hinting somewhat, as to the nature of their various personalities.

The jurors’ responsibility is to look at the evidence and to then to evaluate it by applying the rules that the judge provided. Those rules are called jury instructions. The judge also cautions the jury panel to leave aside any biases and prejudices but not their common sense.

That task, per se, becomes the dilemma that quickly overtakes these ordinary human beings who come with their own baggage. And, the story quickly descended into the battle of personalities rather their assigned duty.

The Twelve Angry Jurors Director’s Notes said, “ In a hot, claustrophobic jury room, 12 jurors must decide the fate of a young man accused of killing his abusive father. The differences of opinion between the jurists could not be starker, and the stakes-life or death—could not be higher. As the time moves inexorably on and the need to reach a decision looms ever more immanent, the jurists’ deliberations veer from reason to blinding emotion and rampant prejudice. They sweat, swear, stalk, and threaten. Can they ever reach a verdict? The answer to this question charges the action of one of the most challenging dramas ever to electrify an American stage.”

Nine of the 12 actors are current Minneapolis College students. However, there is little indication of that they are unseasoned, as their performances are, for the most part, strong and professional.

De’ja Whitfield, juror 4, played an uptight, articulate juror concerned with meticulously evaluating the evidence and applying the jury instructions just as the judge directed regardless of the personal life hard luck circumstances of the young teen. She does so, masterfully.

“We’re missing the point here. This boy—let’s say he’s a product of a filthy neighborhood and a broken home. We can’t help that. We’re not here to go into the reasons why slums are breeding grounds for criminals. They are. I know it. So do you. The children who come out of slum backgrounds are potential menaces to society.”

She left no doubt this was a real case with real consequences. The safety of society was paramount.

Bigotry played a part in the deliberations despite the fact the jury foreperson was an African American woman and several other jurors were African American. This sad sentiment felt so real as embodied in, juror 10, played by Cecily Amrane.

“I don’t mind telling you this, mister. We don’t owe him a thing. He got a fair trial, didn’t he? You know what that trial cost? He’s lucky he got it. Look, we’re all grownups here. You’re not going to tell us that we’re supposed to believe him, knowing what he is. I’ve lived among ’em all my life. You can’t believe a word they say. You know that.”

Amrane skillfully induced the audience to hate her for her Trumpian xenophobic views despite the fact it was merely a performance.

There were too many great acting performances to recount each one of them. No part was insignificant. Virtually each word sucked the audience deeper and deeper into the mystery as to what would be the final outcome.

The constant pendulum arguments among the jurors and especially the continual resistance to fact of juror 3, played by Scott Rubsam and juror 8, played by Leonard Searcy, was so intense and engrossing as to exhaust the viewer with tension and concern.

Searcy and Rubsam are seasoned professionals each with their own Hollywood and professional stage credentials.

Director Dr. Maxine Klein has acted on and off Broadway. Additionally she has written and directed from New York to California. Her credentials and achievements are too numerous to site. Her vast experience and expertise was on full display even in this small theatre production at this community college.

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Fall Play Delivers