February 27, 2011

The Jury Decrees: Trial is a Hoot

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The Usher, played by Dan Burns ’13, politely greets the audience as they enter the small black-walled room and take a seat in one of the many folding chairs. Along the opposite wall, the nearly hidden orchestra plays a few notes while they wait to begin. A single jury stand is set up to the right, with the plaintiff’s and defendant’s tables nearby. The Usher chats graciously with his guests, and retains his huffy appearance despite the taunting and heckling from the crowd. He even has to struggle with the plaintiff’s Counsel, played by Sonja Gabrielsen ’11, and the Stenographer, played by Regina Russell ’13, as they rearrange the court into two separate factions, with half the jury stands on the defendant’s side and the other half on the plaintiff’s side. Thus the show for the Black Box Theatre’s production of Trial by Jury began, before the entire audience had even arrived.

The student led production of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s comic operetta then proceeded to take its audience through the absurd and whimsical trial of plaintiff Angelina’s (played by Brynn Johnson ’14) suit against her former fiancée Edwin (Ben Hennessy ’13) for a “breach of promise of marriage.” The piece features a biased jury, a foolish judge, a defendant who’s a scoundrel and a plaintiff that tries to flirt with every man in the court. The Usher spends his time trying to silence the courtroom while the rest of the cast attempts to decide whether or not to punish Edwin for his crime. After rejecting Edwin’s proposal to marry both the plaintiff and his new love, the Judge, played by Miles Ludek ’12, finally offers to marry Angelina himself, and everyone in the courtroom leaves happy.

The operetta goes deeper than its obvious attempts to lampoon the court system, however, as it showcases the struggle between the sexes with both Edwin and Angelina trying to sway the court in their favor. The court is segregated from the very beginning, with the male half of the jury sitting on the defendant’s side and the female half sitting by the plaintiff. Edwin spends his time trying to justify his actions by claiming Angelina became a “bore intense” and by enlisting the empathy of the other men in court. Angelina, on the other hand, primarily tries to evoke their pity, constantly bewailing her piteous state. Director Michael Doliner ’13 gives the women slightly more modern power by making the Counsel to the plaintiff a woman. This decision brought the operetta out of the 19th century by giving the women in the court their own power, rather than just having to rely on the decision of men. The action pretty much proceeds as a back and forth between Angelina and Edwin, eventually leading to a literal wrestling match between the two, while the jury moves in closer to watch.

The operetta is littered with various humorous moments, such as when Edwin appears to flash the jury as he removes his jacket and the Counsel’s mistake of “burglary” for “bigamy”. What truly makes this piece, however, is the over-exaggerated performances of the Usher, Angelina and the jury. The Usher is fastidious to a fault, demanding silence in the court to the point of threatening the jury and the Judge with his cane. Angelina swoons over everyone, using her beauty and charm to woo almost the entire court. In fact, the operetta only dragged during the Judge’s solo, where his expressions and voice often lacked the embellished pomposity that would have made him so much more entertaining. Overall, Trial by Jury combined absurdity and witty commentary in a beautiful and hilarious manner that showcased the talents of the young cast.

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Original Author: Fiona Modrak