Mercer Theatre invites the audience into the jury room as a dozen men and women decide the fate of a young murder suspect in “12 Angry Jurors.”
The play, which opens Feb. 16 at Tattnall Square Center for the Arts, details the jurors’ deliberations and explores the stereotypes and prejudices each person holds.
“It is a story about our justice system and the American citizens who are chosen for our juries everyday. It is also a commentary on the strengths and flaws within that system because of those same juries,” said Director Sheri Gilbert-Wilson, a Mercer University alumna and adjunct professor of theater. “Because we are human beings, we always come into any situation with our own prejudices, our own issues, our own preconceptions or misconceptions. …
“This play shines a light on how if we honestly just think about facts without our colored judgement and put our own issues aside, it is more likely we will actually come to objective agreement. In this way we can be a very powerful and constructive part of our justice system.”
Written by Reginald Rose, the courtroom drama debuted in 1954 as the television play “Twelve Angry Men” and has been remade several times for film, TV and the stage. In a modern twist, Mercer Theatre’s version includes video of witness testimony recorded in a courtroom at the School of Law with law students acting as the witnesses and attorneys.
Throughout the play, audience members will learn a little about each character, and they may leave learning something about themselves.
“We’re going to try to create an atmosphere in the ‘deliberation room’ that is intimate. Theatre in the round provides this intimate feeling,” Gilbert-Wilson said. “Additionally, upon entry each audience member will be considered a jury member, and they are expected to pay attention and also vote on the defendant’s guilt or innocence at the end of the play.”
As audience members enter the theater, they will be given a jury lanyard, small notebook and pencil to take notes if they wish.
Gilbert-Wilson graduated from Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2013 with an undergraduate degree in theater arts. Since then, she’s acted in independent films and started a theater arts ministry at her church. In 2022, she earned a Master of Fine Arts in classical acting from George Washington University in association with the Shakespeare Theatre Company.
Throughout this time, Gilbert-Wilson stayed in contact with Scot Mann, associate professor and director of the theater program at Mercer. Last year, he reached out and offered her the opportunity to teach an introduction to acting class at the University this semester.
“I was so excited and happy because I truly enjoyed my time at Mercer. It was such a fun yet challenging program,” Gilbert-Wilson said. “To be able to come back and teach at my alma mater and direct their first spring production is a wonderful opportunity and definitely a dream come true.”
Mercer Theatre will perform “12 Angry Jurors” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16-18; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 19; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23-25; and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 26. Tickets are $10 with Mercer ID and $15 general admission. Get advance tickets by calling the box office at (478) 301-5470 or visiting tickets.mercer.edu.