MUSCATINE — Court is in session Friday night when Muscatine High School raises the curtain for the first performance of "Twelve Angry Jurors."
The fall play follows the back-and-forth deliberation of a murder trial, when a 12-member jury tries to deliberate on a case that could mean death for an inner-city teen. The jury struggles for an unanimous decision so they can go home, but one juror struggles to cast away their certainty.
"I was looking specifically to do a dramatic piece this year," said Rene Mauck, the chair of the drama department and director of the play. "Then I was looking for something that had an ensemble cast. And This play really fits that bill."
Mauck said that while she was reviewing "Twelve Angry Jurors," she thought that it's message made it the right production for the theater to tackle this year.
“I thought it was very timely," Mauck said. "It’s got a really great message for any time. A message about people working together. How we deal with our prejudice, and world views being different. How we can work through it and talk about it and overcome those things."
Karissa Burton, a junior, said that she is used to being cast in comedy roles. But this year, Mauck cast her as Juror 10, a racist who has it in for the accused teenager.
"I'm used to being one of the comedy characters, but now I'm playing someone who hates people," Burton said. "I'm not used to that. It's really hard to find myself in that character."
Mauck said that it's been a good year for the drama department.
"This has been an unusually smooth process this year," Mauck said. "These kids are really dedicated to it. They’ve been excited about the story. It’s really opened up a lot of current issue conversations and teaching moments between me and my students.”
Mauck said it was the students performances that she was most enthused about.
"I just think (the community) will be really impressed with the level of talent our high schoolers have," Mauck said. "If they have never come and seen a show at the high school, they should take this opportunity. These kids are really talented. They work hard. If you come and see the show, it’s going to make you feel really good about what is happening at the school."
Julia So, a junior, plays Juror 8, the moral conscience of the ensemble. She said the message of the play is as relevant today as it was in 1957 when it was made into a movie.
"I think of Ferguson and Charlottesville," So said. "There has just been a lot of escalation of racism in America. I feel like people allow their prejudices to blind them to the truth without giving them a chance. And I think it is important have a play that sheds light on that."
Destiny Williams, a junior, said not only is she the youngest member of the cast but was cast as the youngest character. She said that this age dynamic really appeals to her as an actress.
"My character, you know, she is the next generation," Williams said. "Discrimination is happening in the jury room, and she is the one that is going to remember this and carry that into the next generation."
Mauck said that plays are a multidisciplinary way for students to learn.
“They learn teamwork. It’s very co-curricular," Mauck said. "They walk away from the play not just learning about acting. But they learn about history. They learn about sociology. They learn about life."
Njeri Mungara, a senior who plays the foreman, said the theater has really helped her open up.
"I think it has really helped me with my social skills," Mungara said. "In class now I speak out more, and when I do speak, I use a more elevated diction, and I am better at conveying my message when I want to talk to people. I find that when I talk to people, like in English class, I'm just a more confident speaker.
Mauck hopes that people will come support the students in the play, but for her, attendees will get more than just that.
"There is this energy in the theater. It’s three dimensional," Mauck said. "You are actively a part of it. You are sitting there watching the story unfolding in front of you, but it’s very different from watching a T.V. screen. I think there is this real kinetic energy because it is happening live in front of you."
"Twelve Angry Jurors" will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Muscatine High School Auditorium, 2705 Cedar St. Show times are 7 p.m., with the box office opening at 6:15 p.m. Tickets are $6, available at the door.