‘12 Angry Jurors’ Comes to Little Egg Harbor Stage

If It Was Real, Maybe Named ‘Trial of the Century’
Sep 04, 2018
Photo by: Rick Mellerup

The Little Egg Theatre Company will be performing “12 Angry Jurors” 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 7-8 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9 at the Little Egg Harbor Township Community Center, 319 West Calabreeze Way in the town’s Mystic Island neighborhood.

“12 Angry Jurors” is a re-titled “12 Angry Men,” with both male and female actors cast in the play. The show has a long history. Reginald Rose wrote a 60-minute teleplay that was broadcast live on CBS on Sept. 20, 1954 and won three Emmy Awards. Sherman L. Sergal adapted the teleplay into a stage play and in 1957 a successful film version was released, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring the likes of Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden and Jack Klugman. The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Writing of Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, yet out-voted in all three categories to “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” It finally hit Broadway in 2004, where it ran for 328 performances, a respectable number for a non-musical, showing the play still resonated with audiences.

The play is a courtroom drama, although it is set not in the courtroom but instead in a dingy and steaming hot locked jury room. The offstage voice of the judge opens the show.

“Murder in the first degree, premeditated homicide, is the most serious charge in our criminal courts… One man is dead. The life of another is at stake. If there is a reasonable doubt in your minds as to the guilt of the accused – then you must declare him not guilty. If – however – there is no reasonable doubt, then he must be found guilty. Whichever way you decide, the verdict must be unanimous. I urge you to deliberate honestly and thoughtfully. You are faced with a grave responsibility. Thank you.”

The case revolves around a 19-year-old male, never identified except as “the boy” or “the kid,” who is charged with stabbing his father to death. At first it seems like the jurors won’t have to deliberate for long.

The “old man” who lived in the apartment under the room where the murder took place testified the father and son were arguing. Then he heard the son tell his father, “I’m going to kill you!” Sure enough, a second later the old man heard a body falling to the floor, ran to his door, looked out and saw the kid running down the stairs and out of the building. When the police are called, they find a switch knife sticking out of the father’s chest, a knife the kid admitted to buying. Meanwhile, a woman, who lives across the el tracks from the father, had looked out her window and through the windows of a passing train saw the murder. And she’s known the kid all his life.

The kid’s alibi is questionable, to say the least. He says he was at the movies, but can’t remember what picture he saw, has no ticket stub, and no witnesses. The boy claims he lost the knife through a hole in his pocket and somebody else must have picked it up. Plus, the kid has a criminal record, sent to reform school for stabbing somebody!

As Juror Nr. 3 says, “this is open and shut.”

But when the jury votes, Juror Nr. 8 (Cormack Morrisey) holds out! He can’t, at first, give any good reasons, but simply says, “There were 11 votes for guilty. It’s not so easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.” His decision doesn’t make him popular.

“After six days (the time the trial took), he doesn’t know,” Juror Nr. 7 (Trish O’Neill) tells the jury foreman (Judy Privetera-Parrish). “In six days, I could learn calculus,” adds Juror Nr. 12 (Mary Ellen Marzullo). “This is A, B, C.”

The heat in the room, the desire for jurors to get on with their lives (Nr. 7 has tickets for a Broadway musical that night; Juror Nr. 6 – Julie Shutz – has a kid at home with the mumps), and the stress of possibly sending a 19-year-old to the electric chair soon start taking their toll. Arguments bubble up every few minutes. Juror Nr. 11 (Jim Henry) wants to shut the room’s only window and Nr. 7 can’t believe it! Juror Nr. 10 (Mary Henry) disgusts just about everybody with her racism (the race of “the kid” is never identified but Nr. 10 describes him as “them.”). Juror Nr. 5 (Marv Oppenheimer) explodes when other jurors say slums breed criminality: “I used to play in a backyard that was filled with garbage. Maybe it still smells on me.” Juror Nr. 8 insists on seeing exhibits, keeping the guard (Ellen Voorhees) running. And Juror Nr. 3, an angry and loudmouthed man, physically goes after Nr. 8 not once but twice, having to be restrained.

“He,” says Juror Nr. 2 (Chuck Deeney), pointing at Nr. 8, “seems so sure. And he has made a number of good points. While he,” pointing at Nr. 3, “only gets mad and insults everybody.”

Juror Nr. 9 (Aline Bernstein) is one of Nr. 3’s biggest targets, getting in her face calling her a “soft-hearted old lady.”

Juror Nr. 4 (Tara Dixon) is able to refrain from getting emotional while laying out a clear and concise case for the boy’s guilt. Her arguments are so effective that she is able to sway the jury, which eventually had swung to a 6-6 deadlock, back to 9-3 in favor of conviction. Remember, though, the vote has to be unanimous, and it doesn’t seem as if that’s ever going to happen. As Nr. 11 puts it, “We can’t even agree about whether or not the window should be open.”

No wonder there are 12 angry jurors!

How does it all end? You’ll have to see for yourself.

This play is so powerful that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that it influenced her decision to pursue a career in law after seeing the show while in college. She said she was particularly inspired by Juror Nr. 11, a European refugee, and his monologue on his reverence for the American justice system.

Tickets for “12 Angry Jurors,” directed by Kevin Berdini, are $12. They may be ordered online at littleeggtheatreco.com or at the door up to 30 minutes before show time. Refreshments will be available for purchase and there will be free coffee for all. Part of the proceeds of the show will be donated to the Interfaith Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity.

—R.M.

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