Who’s Directing the Fall Play?

Sydney Gager, Editor

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This June it was announced that Mr. O’Donnell would be directing his first Parson Street Players production, 12 Angry Jurors.

Mr. O’Donnell has taught 7th grade language arts for the past fifteen years, and began teaching Acting One in the high school last year. As well as experience as a stand-up comedian, Mr. O has directed a comedy improvisational group and musical improv. I got the opportunity to sit down with Mr. O to hear his thoughts about the production so far. 

What made you decide to direct for Rye High School this year?

I used to do a lot of performing and I don’t have that outlet as much as I used to. I always wanted to get involved in directing high school productions. But there’s no time like the present. One thing I’ve learned in life: if you wait for everything to kinda be the right time, so to speak, you’ll be waiting a while. So I remember talking about it with Mr. Snowden and Mr. Green, who are also fine directors and resources, and upon teaching the acting class throughout last year I remember thinking I wanted to take a shot at the fall show, so here we are.

A lot of people, when they heard you were directing, thought you were gonna do a comedy. What made you choose a drama and why 12 Angry Jurors specifically?

12 Angry Jurors, formerly 12 Angry Men, [is] one of the most produced plays, it’s one of the great American plays and also we can even broaden that and just say it’s a great play.

There’s high stakes, as you know there’s a boy on trial for murder and the twelve jurors in the room have to decide on the guilt or non-guilt of the defendant. And if he’s found guilty he’s going to be put to capital punishment and die.

As the drama goes on, we learn about the characters and we learn about the lens through which they see the world and we get a sense of who has certain prejudices, who is just simply–you know–wrong or misguided, who believes they are right [but] change their minds, and so on. When Reginald Rose wrote the play it was based on an experience he had in a jury room. Things can get pretty contentious, as I think they should, if a life is at stake.

Do you think you want to direct the fall play next year?

I’m focusing very much on this in the present and really not even thinking of what would come next. That allows me to put a lot of focus on this play [and] so far I’m having a wonderful experience. 

This is the first play in a few years to have cuts, how did you come to that decision?

To tell you the truth, I was not aware the Parson Street Players–it’s still called that?–had a policy, or a practice I should say, [of] not having cuts. So I will say, though, that, you know, when you look at a play like 12 Angry Jurors you’re looking at thirteen parts. So, you know, the only other way you’re gonna do it is you’re going to do–I mean this in all sincerity since the play is in three acts–you’re going to somehow cast 39 people and you’re going to rotate act to act and try to make it a different kind of theatrical experience.

I do know that, from my own experiences as an actor, cuts are, you know, a way of life. And if someone is not in the show they can try and get involved in something else [and] one of the things I do like with Rye High School is that the play is not the only performing opportunity

In what ways do you think 12 Angry Jurors is relevant to today? 

I mentioned earlier that it’s very much an American play and I’m going to quote a British prime minister, Winston Churchill.

He said something along the lines of, you know, democracy is not always great, but it’s the best system that we have. I know that the criminal justice system is not perfect. What attracts me to the play are a couple of concepts and they are truth and doubt.

 You know, with the internet and with cell phones and such you can really kind of dictate and find the things, the ideas that appeal to you. There’s even news channels that target a certain audience, target another audience, so on and so forth. I think its very easy to be closed off and  not listen to the “other side.” One of the things I like about this play is you clearly have 12 people who are put into a room, who are different and have to battle it out to find some sort of objective truth.

Some people see [truth] as a relative thing, some people see it as objective, but [regardless] it’s not easy. And there’s a struggle. And it has been all throughout American society and history, to get to what is this thing called the truth? And then, that to me is where doubt comes in–there’s a lot of doubt in life, people know. There’s a lot of things that we don’t know. There’s a lot of elements of change in life. And one of the themes that comes up in the show, or one of the statements that keeps going over and over, is this idea of a reasonable doubt, you know the burden of proof is on the prosecution in the play. And if there’s enough reasonable doubt to think the boy didn’t do it–they’re not saying innocent, they’re saying not guilty.

Honestly, in any version of 12 Angry Men that I’ve seen, I don’t know if we’re totally sure at the end of the play. So there’s a lot of complex themes and ideas that attract me to it. 

Don’t forget to come see 12 Angry Jurors on October 18th and 19th!