Off-Leash Area’s The Jury, now playing at the Red Eye Theater, takes a look at the concept of guilt and examines the process by which a jury decides a verdict. Conceived by Jennifer Ilse, who co-directed the play with fellow artistic director Paul Herwig, and aided by a tight script by Max Sparber, the production does a good job of raising some thought-provoking questions.
Ilse plays Shari, a complex character who, because she is in a dispute with her boyfriend, brings a drug addict to a party, which action results in her boyfriend’s murder. Much of the play involves an examination of the different sides of Shari’s character. Is she a violent, over-sexualized drug addict, or is she a pretty young woman who has hit some hard times? Through movement, Ilse explores the different aspects of her character—or rather, the different perceptions that the jury sees of her, depending on whether the prosecution or the defense is speaking. An expressive dancer, Ilse creates some rich, layered choreography—though she is a stronger actress with her body than she is with her voice.
Adena Brumer, on the other hand, does a wonderful job with the text she is given as the prosecutor; Brumer has most of the play’s lines, and delivers much of the piece’s philosophical questioning. With both intelligence and vulnerability, Brumer reveals the prosecutor’s thought process to the audience. She reveals, for example, that she will never call Shari by her name, but always call her “the defendant” in order to minimize any sympathy the jury might feel for Shari.
|the jury, presented through february 6 at the red eye theater. for tickets ($18) and information, see offleasharea.org.|
There are some strong choices made with the design in the play, although they are at times incongruent, and often under-realized. The set’s background, which consists of giant pod-like structures, is interesting to look at, but the performers never really interact with it. So, too, the headless dummies that sit on the jury chairs, while visually provocative, aren’t much incorporated into the rest of the play.
A theme throughout the play is that of dressing and undressing. The prosecutor and Shari both enact the physical gesture of changing clothes in front of the audience. In the prosecutor’s case, it is an act of vulnerability, as she armors herself in the facade of professional garb before she enters the court room. In Shari’s case, her two costumes—the conservative, girlish shirt and blouse she wears in the court room and the flesh-revealing cut-offs and low-cut shirt she wears on the night of the murder—show the dramatic contrast between the two sides of her character.
One moment where I thought the costume choices didn’t work was during a movement section in which the chorus interpreted the different sides of Shari’s character—wearing goddess-like draperies in one moment, then changing to black suits and finally to superhero clothes. The choice was over the top, and came out of nowhere, much as the set seemed to not really fit with the rest of the play.
My other criticism of the piece is that it focuses so closely on Shari’s character rather than on the jury. The exploration of Shari’s character is effective, but the production could have gone farther to explore the experience of the jury itself. However, the play is still thought-provoking and engaging.