Trial by jury occupies such a central place in the American system of justice that it can be easy to forget that it does not enjoy the same exalted status in other parts of the world. In Japan, for instance, the idea that one’s fate could be entrusted to people chosen at random is associated with the desperation of guilt, rather than faith in the fairness of one’s peers. Despite recent jury verdicts in this country such as those reached in the Rodney King and O.J. Simpson trials, which called its legitimacy into question, trial by jury remains the most cherished administrative feature of American democracy.
Intimately related by historical circumstance to the birth of Western theater in Ancient Greece, jury trials have for decades provided dramatists with a ready-made circumstance full of the tension and conflict that audiences love. This weekend, DIJO Productions and the Santa Barbara City College Theatre Arts Department will present perhaps the greatest and certainly the best-known jury trial drama, Twelve Angry Men, at Center Stage Theater. Set to run for three consecutive weekends, this show is one of the most anticipated Santa Barbara theater events in recent memory.
Director Katie Laris has assembled a cast of 12 brilliant actors from a huge audition turnout, and designer Ted Dolas has given the show a daring theater-in-the-round treatment that will have audience members as close as possible to the action. Laris described the effect as “highly realistic,” pointing out that audience members and actors all enter through the same door, creating a real “fly on the wall” experience. Indy Award winner Brian Harwell will play Juror Number 8, otherwise known as “the Henry Fonda role” from the classic film version of the play. It’s a fantastic part, and, according to Laris, Harwell is “looking to be an unlikely hero, an advocate for doubt, conversation, and debate. All he really asks for is that the jury takes the time to talk it out.” The fact that Juror Number 8’s humble demands result in such a hugely consequential shift in the outcome is part of the greatness at the core of both Twelve Angry Men and the American justice system. Don’t miss this opportunity to bask in the excitement and triumph of two things we can never get enough of-great art and real, sometimes flawed, justice.
Twelve Angry Men will preview on Thursday, July 17, at 8 p.m. Performances take place Thursday through Saturday, July 18-August 2, at 8 p.m. Matinees will be held Saturdays and Sundays, July 20-August 2, at 2 p.m. at Center Stage Theater. For tickets and information, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org.