POINTS OF VIEW
BY JAMES STILL, DIRECTOR
More than 60 years after its early versions (first as a one-hour live television drama, then as a feature-length Hollywood film), Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men continues to make its case for relevance because it is at once simple and straight-forward while also complex and high-stakes. In contemporary popular culture, we see endless stories about the justice system, but almost exclusively through the lenses of lawyers and judges. I’m interested in the ways that twelve citizens who were previously unknown to one another are expected to work through their biases and heated disagreements and come to a unanimous decision based on the facts available to them. Of course, it turns out that “facts” may be subjective, which is one of the many layers of misunderstandings explored in the play. But the idea that twelve citizens (angry or not) can put aside differences to fulfill their civic duty—that is democracy at its most idealistic and personal. It’s also a profound reminder about ways that the American experiment is flawed, rigorous, and steeped in responsibility.
Empathetically, the play offers us an opportunity to experience the messy process of being on a jury, which can arguably be a microcosm of a community (or country) in deep disagreement about … everything. The exploration of point of view is one of the things that draws me to this play. There are twelve points of view, and they are mostly at odds with one another. Alliances shift, votes are changed, and maybe even some minds are changed in the process. In my collaboration with the design team, I wanted to find a way to feature point of view as both metaphor and function. That idea will, I hope, make more sense after you’ve seen our production and experienced how point of view can also change visually from wherever you’re sitting in the theatre.
Something else that I’m thinking about as director of this play is the word “angry.” The title of the play isn’t Twelve Anguished Men or Twelve Irritated Men or even Twelve Vengeful Men. So what are these twelve jurors angry about? And does “angry” mean the same thing in 2019 as it did in 1957? Perhaps the feeling is the same, but the many ways we talk about it now, the range of ways anger is expressed—that feels different. The anger of 1957 seems less direct but strangely more obvious. There is a kind of code to some of the anger explored and expressed in the play. This is one of the ways that makes the play firmly of its time, of its period. Looking at this play in 2019, there’s opportunity for us to experience the many ways class and race can so easily divide a group of people. The conversations we have today may be different in terms of the language we use and a growing consciousness about the legacy of injustice, but there are versions of the play’s many heated conversations still happening today, every day.
There have been essays and articles written (even by fans of the play and movie) that the jury in Twelve Angry Men gets it wrong. That’s a conversation that interests me, too. But in the end I find myself most satisfied by watching how the play examines process rather than outcome. The ending, when it comes, comes quickly. The twelve jurors leave, their civic duty completed. They leave never knowing each other’s names. But in some ways these jurors might profoundly know more about one another than some of the people they call friends.
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