I would have called you loony and told you to lay off the drugs. Act and recite lines from memory? Yeah, right. Next you’ll tell me the New England Patriots will win four Super Bowls and there will be a black president. Truth be told there were a lot of “nevers” in my mind back then that have since come to pass, but being fully engaged in a dramatic theater production in a maximum security prison has been pretty mind blowing.
First, the irony. Twelve Angry Men takes place in Chicago during the late 50s. An all white male jury must decide the fate of a 19 year old minority kid accused of stabbing his father to death. If they find him guilty he’ll be executed. The jurors are nameless, identifiable only by personality and opinion. All of them are angry about something, with Juror #8 the only person upset over the injustice about to be perpetrated by the other jurors.
Juror #8 believes, despite a delinquent past, the kid is innocent. This juror knows the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt has not been met by the prosecution. Telling the other men they’re wrong won’t work. Their ignorance of the law, prejudices, and indifference must be overcome in a masterful game of chess that maneuvers them into an enlightened position.
When our drama class began we read Euripides’ Antigone; Arthur Miller’s The Crucible; and Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men. After reading through each play we saw a movie version to help cement the story in our minds. Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb in Twelve Angry Men were phenomenal, it’s a good thing I paid close attention to their characterization of Jurors #8 and #3.
We had to try out for parts in the play, each of us attempting a few lines of the character we thought ourselves capable of doing. I was not confident in trying out for Juror #12, who has the fewest lines. Talking in front of a group of people is outside my comfort zone, so you can imagine that acting isn’t even in the same solar system.
After a week we got assigned our parts. Me? Juror #3’s understudy. Maybe if you know a little about Twelve Angry Men you understand Juror #3 is the primary antagonist to Juror #8. I wasn’t worried though because the guy who got selected for the part is an outspoken, in-your-face sort of person. Some of us refer to him as the mayor of Who-ville since he seemed to have assumed that position without asking anybody. Did I mention this guy is “assertive” in away that can be construed as . . . well, you get the idea.
Anyway, the mayor of Who-Ville was sent to the hole two weeks into rehearsals, accused of conspiring, fraternizing with, or otherwise doing inappropriate things with female staff. None of us really know what that drama is about, just that he’s under investigation until September. Better luck next election Mr. Mayor.
Anyway, this forced me into the role of Juror #3, played by Lee J. Cobb in the movie, and has made me reach into the depths of my imagination to play the part. Ha. Hahahahaha! It’s a good thing I have a background in Dungeons and Dragons, a role playing game that functions around the idea of creating a character and building that person (or creature) to survive in a fantasy realm. Not too much different from pretending to be a juror. Or an actor.