Truth and Bias Put on Trial: 12 Angry Jurors at American University
by Lucas Trevor
A hot summer day in a Washington DC courthouse. 12 everyday people deciding whether or not to put to death a man accused of murder. Is he guilty? Was he given a fair trial? Has he ever been given a fair shot at life? This is the story of 12 Angry Jurors, an adaptation of the original Reginald Rose play, 12 Angry Men.
The show was brought to an American University stage by senior Julia Harris, a double major in Psychology and Theatre. The play taps into themes of social behavior, conformity, and group dynamics. Despite being written in 1954, Harris felt very strongly that the play would resonate in today's climate. “I was caught by how the language of the presidential election mirrored the language in the play some 60 odd years [ago]. I think the themes of prejudice, inherent bias, and truth-searching resonate with audiences today,” she says. It is clear that these themes are apparent throughout the performance, asking the audience to examine their own biases and assumptions about minority groups and individuals.
The force for common good throughout the show is Juror #8 who is portrayed by freshman Heather Adams. Number 8 is an architect who constantly pleads the other members of the jury to keep looking at the evidence and to give the 16 year old kid accused of 1st degree murder the benefit of the doubt. Adams said of the role, “My own personal opinions and behaviors are similar to those of number 8. As a result, it was difficult to find depth and really lift the character off the page. Number 8 is more than just their ‘goodguyness’, and I hope that came through.” Adams showcases the power of justice and the importance to stay true to your beliefs even in the face of overwhelming dissent. Her performance is powerful, and her knowledge of the role obvious. The convictions of an individual trying desperately to give a man a decent shot are truly felt.
Portraying the role of Juror #3 is senior Sam Megill. His performance asks deeper questions and brings up themes of how we are raised, and how our parents shape who we are. When discussing the role, Sam explained, “number 3 is everything wrong with toxic masculinity. I really hate him, and if I met him in real life I would probably want to fight him.” Sam added, “one difficulty is making him likable at the beginning and for him to become Number 8’s foil throughout.” This development and growth are apparent not just through the words given to Megill, but also his characterization. An individual who begins as the mediator and peacebuilder soon turns into the primary antagonist. This change makes the audience question who to trust and why we trust them in the first place.
The show was followed by a talkback with both director and cast and much of the conversation centered on how we as individuals uncover personal bias. The discussion focused on how race and bigotry affected their performance of the show. Also included in the conversation was Professor Laura Duval, a member of the psychology faculty at American University. Duval said that the play was really all about, “social influence… how and why someone can change their behavior for others.”
12 Angry Jurors will be performed March 1st and 2nd in MGC 2-3, at 8pm. Tickets are pay what you can.