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Presumed Guilty 

"12 Angry Jurors" raises difficult questions

Tensions get heated onstage at CTC's production of "12 Angry Jurors." Photo by Emily Cady.

Tensions get heated onstage at CTC's production of "12 Angry Jurors." Photo by Emily Cady.

"12 Angry Jurors" is a combination of a few different things. It takes the script based on Reginald Rose's 1954 teleplay and small pieces of the script for "12 Angry Women" by Sherman Sergel and mashes them together. The 1957 Henry Fonda film is still in circulation, so multiple generations are familiar with the seminal motion picture, which the play also takes advantage of. This mashup makes for a theatrical experience that is just as important and timely now as it was over half a century ago.

The story is deceptively simple. A jury is in deliberations about a case. A young black man is on trial for murdering his father with a knife. The jury sees the case as open and shut, with most of the jurors in a hurry to finish up and move on with their lives. Almost immediately they take a vote and see that there is only one of the group who finds the defendant not guilty. It's not even that the juror necessarily thinks the boy is innocent, he just believes time should be spent weighing the evidence before deciding a life is forfeited. The entirety of the play is those 12 men and women discussing the legal system, reasonable doubt and the prejudices humanity holds, surface level and otherwise.

Director Brad Thompson has done something very interesting with the staging here. Having a dozen men and women onstage at once is a daunting task. Sometimes there are upward of 14 people onstage including the guard and the translator for a deaf juror. All of the characters are acting on moment-to-moment motivation, so there is always someone moving, someone speaking over someone else, or someone wrapped up in an internal monologue. This creates a sense of organized chaos that makes the play feel alive in contrast to most plays, which feel staged. An audience could watch the show three nights in a row and just pick out one character to follow, seeing a completely different take on the same material each night.

Cascades Theatrical Company has also started having a performance during each run of the show with sign language translators present for the deaf and "12 Angry Jurors" has two of them, who work together so that their translating plays like a two-person show of the material. With two and three characters sometimes speaking over each other, the performance of these translators is almost virtuosic and incredible to witness.

Thompson also wanted to cast a deaf actor for one of the roles in the show. "I teach middle school and where I teach there's a deaf student" says Thompson. "He has an interpreter who walks around with him all day and signs and interprets for him. We got talking one day and Charisse [Josi] has done some of the ASL interpreting for theatre. She asked if they could shadow one of the actors on stage. Thompson says that he thought it might be a little awkward, but one of the jurors could be deaf, so the idea was incorporated into the play.

None of the actors who auditioned were deaf, so Mary Hildebrant, an actress with full hearing, was cast. She had very little experience with sign language before the show, so learning an entirely new language was quite the challenge. "I've had three or four different ladies teaching me sign language," she says. "Everyone teaches you differently because that's how they would do it," she explains.

"12 Angry Jurors" is a remarkable play because of how important the ideas behind it still are. As long as the play and the film still survive, then each new generation can learn about civics and ethics from this jury room.

"12 Angry Jurors"

Thursday, May 5 to Saturday, May 14

Evening shows at 7:30 p.m.

Matinees at 2 p.m.

Cascades Theatrical Company,

148 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend

$13 to $20

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