By Benjamin Lucas
Last week, the Union Theater Department presented an adaptation of Renigald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men,” a play set in real time where 12 jurors decide the fate of a teenage boy who allegedly murdered his abusive father.
Angelica Rivera, who plays Juror #5 in the production, sat down to talk about the diversity of the cast and the play’s connotations nearly 60 years after its original production.
Ben Lucas: What were the challenges of adapting (and modernizing) “Twelve Angry Men”? Did the change from an all-male cast affect your interpretation of the play?
Angelica Rivera: It was challenging for everyone to adjust to the change in gender in the scripts. So there was a long period of time where some of us would be calling girls “him” or “he.” As for modernizing it, unfortunately, it isn’t too hard to see the prejudice in today’s society. However, Albert did a great job with not tampering with the original playwright’s intention of the play.
Changing the all-male cast did not affect the way I view the play. In fact I think it is more believable in a modernized version to have women in the cast.
B.L.: Do you think “Twelve” takes on a new connotation or relevancy in the wake of the recent Ferguson and Brown verdicts?
A.R.: I think the recent cases can be easily related to “Twelve.” One line in the play is, “Everyone gets a fair trial, that’s the system,” but honestly, our system is broken and there definitely are too many trials that are based off of stereotypes.
B.L.: Reginald Rose keeps it ambiguous whether or not the defendant murdered his father. Do you personally think the defendant is guilty?
A.R.: Well, even though we proved each piece of evidence to have reasonable doubt, there was this one time in practice where we discovered an easy way to stab downward even while initially holding the knife underhand. Plus the woman could have had her glasses on, you never really know. But since there is a slight reasonable doubt, I say not guilty.
B.L.: “Twelve” is an examination of the legal process, but it also illustrates the influence of a single individual in the jury room. Do you think “Twelve” is about the power of the individual or the power of the legal system as a whole?
A.R.: I think it’s the power of the legal system as a whole. Yes, none of this would have happened if Juror #8 didn’t talk to everyone point by point, but by doing that she laminates what is supposed to go on in a jury room.