Backstage: Twelve Angry Jurors

04/25/08 5:30PM By Nina Keck
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(Host) Lock twelve people in a jury room and listen in as they deliberate the fate of a young man charged with murder.

That's the premise of a drama written by Reginald Rose. The work was first produced by CBS televison in 1954. Three years later, Henry Fonda starred in the film adaptation.

And now, the Vermont Actor's Repertory Theatre brings its version of Twelve Angry Jurors to Rutland's Paramount Theater.

VPR's Nina Keck has more.

(Keck) A six-day trial has just ended as the play begins.

(Judge) "You have heard a long and complex case, ladies and gentlemen. It's now your duty to sit down and separate the facts from the fancy. One man is dead, the life of another is at stake."

(Larson) "The play opens as the jury retires and takes a preliminary vote to see who thinks this 19 year old defendant is guilty of murdering his father with a knife, and who does not."

(Keck) That's Chris Larson. He plays juror number 8 -- the hold out. His character is the only juror to vote not guilty.

(Larson and others) "There were 11 votes for guilty. It's not so easy for me to raise my hand to send a kid to die without talking about it first.'' ``Who said it was easy for me?'' ``Or me?'' ``No one.''

(Larson) "The rest of the play chronicles the decision making process of this group of people . . . the alliances that they build that fall apart, the conflicts that arise with a couple of the characters and how they arrive eventually at a consensus."

(Ensemble) "The kid's a dangerous killer. You can see it. ``Where do you look to see if a man's a killer? I'd like to know.'' ``What is it about this case that makes you think this kid is innocent?'' ``He's 19 years old.'' ``That's old enough. He knifed his own father four inches into the chest.''

(Keck) For 90 minutes, you watch the characters argue, reason and deliberate with one another. Sandy Gartner, who plays the jury foreperson, says it's riveting.

(Gartner) "You see 12 individuals who have never been together before this week. And we have been charged with literally making a life or death decision -- and to have witness to that as an audience member and as an actor -- it's a very intense experience."

(Keck) Gartner says the actors worked very hard developing their characters' identities. All their different quirks, mannerisms and personalities, she says, add tension and realism to the performance.

(Gartner) "And I find now as I'm walking on stage, I'm realizing, `Oh, that's why he's acting that way, because he's that kind of person.' And I've really gotten to know these characters as people.

(Caruso) "To me it's just life."

(Keck) That's Cynthia Caruso who plays another member of the jury.

(Caruso) "And that's one of the things to me that makes it so alive. Changing and liking someone and then disliking someone and thinking that this person's right and then thinking that maybe they're not right. It's life."

(Keck) And life, she says, is rarely certain. There's always a little reasonable doubt. Cast members say watching the various characters come to terms with that is what Twelve Angry Jurors is all about.

For VPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Rutland.

(Host) Twelve Angry Jurors runs this weekend and next at the Paramount Theater in Rutland.



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