If you want to see the up-and-coming actors of Tulsa, look no further than Clark Theatre. There, a youth troupe under the guidance of Julie Tattershall, Frank Gallagher and Erin Scarberry gains experience and training in the theatrical arts, both on and offstage. Their most recent production, You the Jury, was selected by a peer group and is acted solely by minors.
Written by James Roach and directed by George Romero, You the Jury tells the story of Edith, an inexperienced lawyer, and her sister Barbara, who the court has charged with murder. A series of witnesses state their case, and after we have heard that testimony and also the more private story which the sisters reveal, the judge asks the audience itself to become the jury, and to decide Barbara's fate.
You the Jury has two endings, though the text is heavily biased toward one.
As a courtroom drama, the text of You the Jury works well enough. I personally have difficulties with numbers, and therefore I found the information about time frames (i.e. who was doing what when) confusing. And there are a few bits in the text which sacrifice verisimilitude for plot's sake, but these moments aren't so troublesome as to distract the audience the mystery at hand.
In any case, the real reason to see the show isn't the text itself; it's the opportunity to see the various strengths these young actors bring to the production.
Edith (Paige Morgan) has the difficult task of defending a client who seems determined to go to jail, and therefore she's on the attack. Morgan grills her witnesses. She attacks the tops of her lines, fearlessly and confidently interrupts her witnesses, and invades their personal spaceAllan (Clayton Bradshaw), the prosecuting attorney, has an open-and-shut case on his hands, and brims with confidence. Bradshaw speaks with a calm cadence and gives the witnesses room, but even though he's practically assured victory, he uses a variety of tactics on his witnesses in order to seal the deal.
Bri Parker as Barbara makes her presence known despite having few lines in the first act. Barbara has refused to take the stand in her own defense, but breaks her silence with an angry outburst during another witness's testimony. Parker is careful to ensure this outburst comes from genuine outrage and not merely out of the blue. She listens carefully to her acting partners and responds accordingly.
Cassidy Henshaw as Janice brings urgency to the role, especially while on the stand. Having taken Edith and Barbara as role models, she puts her family first. She's nervous to be in the courtroom, making her bravery admirable.
The judge (Ariah Morrison) is a starched patrician, with a tight rein on her courtroom. Despite that stern exterior, she finds moments of tenderness with which she placates the accused and restores order to the court.
McPherson, the cop (Chazz Browne), is the trial's first witness. Browne helps set the tone between the two attorneys' styles, reacting to the prosecution's respectful probing with an amiable smile and to the defense's intense grilling with a frown and sharp tongue.
Rennie, the ballistics expert (Michael Stocker), is a useful foil to McPherson's casual, slumped posture. Wren-like, Stocker pecks out the minute details of his area of expertise.
Gwendolyn (Marjorie Tanner), the third witness, is our comedic relief in the first act, though her character provides useful information in her testimony. Tanner relishes her character's carelessly domineering and selfish attitude, and clearly signifies her victories and losses as they happen.
Sheila (Brianna Morrison), an upright, proper lady and acquaintance of the deceased, provokes Barbara with her testimony. She establishes a clear relationship with characters both onstage (Barbara, the attorneys) and offstage (the murder victim). She does the best job of including the audience-jury in her monologues, sharing pertinent tidbits and asides with a self-assured gaze. Jimmy (Tanner Friend), an elevator operator in the building where the murder took place, also provides some comic relief. He's a bit baffled by how serious court proceedings are, and reacts to the ceremony and sobriety with a playful grin.
The assistants to the prosecution and to the defense (Courtney Helm and Sara Young), though possessing few lines, take their roles seriously by listening to the testimony, taking notes, whispering to their co-workers and occasionally flashing wry smiles at their notepads when they hear a witness make a remark which could help their case.
Likewise, the clerk (Kaitlyn Lakey) and the stenographer (Amber Allen) whisper back and forth as the case proceeds and share private giggles. After all, this is just another day at work for them. They provide a useful contrast to the trial's gravity without distracting us from it.
The bailiff (Phillip Perez) doesn't have anyone to chat with, and regards the court with more seriousness than the clerk and the stenographer. Perez has a nice moment when, after Janice has entered the courtroom, he offers her his own chair. His concern for the young girl shines through this offer. It allows us a brief glimpse into this character whom we may not have given a second thought otherwise.
Despite the fact that You the Jury is a drama, it does not drag, as dramas sometimes do. It is a short play, yes, but even short plays can drag; Romero has paced this production well. There's no hemming or hawing. The actors keep the information coming without dwelling upon it or rushing past.
In fact, each and every one of these actors handles the legal jargon with acumen. Perhaps shows like Law & Order and CSI have made such jargon part of the general idiom, but it is still a credit to these actors that their speech sounds natural and unaffected.
If you desire to see young local actors practice their craft, then this is an excellent opportunity to do so.
You the Jury runs May 16-17 at 7:30pm, and on May 18 at 2pm. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for seniors and students. Visit clarktheatre.com or call 669-6455.
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