Even in an open-and-shut case, the tension in a jury room is bound to be heightened. When race, gender and the unseen truth in the case are added, the room boils over.
Such is the case in "12 Angry Jurors," the stage play adapted from the Oscar-nominated 1957 movie "12 Angry Men" and the 1997 Emmy Award-winning television movie of the same name that opens at Ripple Theatre today.
The Destiny Theatre Company production of the play by Reginald Rose "is all character work," said Steve Ray, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga instructor who is directing the play. "The beauty of it is it's an actor's script. And we have some of the best actors in town."
The drama revolves around the verdict to be determined in the case of a 19-year-old man who is accused of fatally stabbing his father. The guard who escorts the jurors into the jury room speaks about the assumed outcome when he mutters, "He doesn't stand a chance."
But does he?
While Ray said the play has two main characters, each juror has his or her own story. Each brings his or her background and take on the proceedings, he said.
"Each has a moment to shine," he said.
"As a director," Ray said, "it's been a real pleasure. I love actors, and I want to give them room to use their craft to bring whatever experience they have to their role. I want to give them space to create as well as boundaries with which to work."
He said the entire play takes place in the jury room, so Ripple Theatre is a "perfect" and "intimate" place for the show.
Adding complexity to an already tense production, Ray said, is its resetting of the original 1954 script to 1966, where the original 12 white, male jurors have been replaced by 12 multicultural jurors of both sexes.
"That ups the stakes," Ray said. "It makes the characters much more complex."
The 13-member cast includes the 12 jury members and their guard. Two voices including that of the judge -- voiced by former City Judge Walter Williams -- also are heard.
IF YOU GO
* What: "12 Angry Jurors."
* When: 8 p.m. today, Saturday and June 26-27; 4 p.m. Sunday and June 28; 2:30 p.m. June 27.
* Where: Ripple Theatre, 3264 Brainerd Road.
* Admission: $17 adults; $14 students, seniors and groups; $13 matinees; $20 day of show.
* Phone: 544-1597.
* Web site: www.destinyentertainment,org.
Tickets are also available at the Memorial Auditorium box office (642-8497), the Chattanooga African-American Museum (266-8658) and Premier Beauty Supply (648-4206).