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Montgomery students prepared for play by observing a criminal trial

By Staff | Dec 13, 2017

JADE HEASLEY/The Luminary   Members of Montgomery Area High School's theatre ensemble Virtuoso performed "12 Angry Jurors" on December 7th.  The modern update of the classic "12 Angry Men" was a complex story of jurors making a life-and-death decision about the fate of a 19-year-old who is charged with murdering his father.  

MONTGOMERY – Virtuoso gave two riveting performances of “12 Angry Jurors” in the Montgomery Area High School auditorium on December 7th and 8th. The talented theatrical group is made up of students in 9th through 12th grade. The play was a modern update of the classic “12 Angry Men” and the students kept the audience mesmerized from beginning to end.

Preparation for the play began months ago when Virtuoso’s founder Carina McNear took some of her current students to see justice in action in the Lycoming County Courthouse. The students got to observe the opening of a criminal jury trial and attend a “Lunch and Learn” session with Virtuoso alumnus Corey J. Mowrey, who is an attorney in Williamsport. He hosted a Q&A for the students where he, Judge Mark Lovecchio, police officers, and other attorneys spoke to the students and answered questions about the legal system that would help them prepare for the show.

For the audience members, the drama began before the curtain went up. Instead of being handed a traditional program, ticket holders walked into the auditorium and were told “You’ve been served” and handed a manila envelope with a juror pass on the front. The program was inside, and the front page looked like a jury summons. The creative move lent an air of authenticity to the legal drama.

The entire play happens in real-time as a group of jurors are tasked with deciding the fate of a nineteen-year-old boy who has been charged with stabbing his father to death. The case seems open and shut, but one lone juror isn’t as readily convinced and wants to analyze the details of the case. The jurors come from all walks of life and their different ages, backgrounds, and stories color their opinion of the case. Two of the actors had to adopt accents for their role. Maddie Solano LaForme performed in a Southern accent, and Caleb Hipple performed with a Russian accent.

The ensemble cast did an excellent job portraying the various characters, who ranged from soft spoken and mild-mannered to outraged hotheads. The dynamic drama explored topics of prejudice, sociology, psychology, and economic status. Senior Zofina Fink who played the Jury Forewoman said, “’12 Angry Jurors’ is a simple show at first glance, but putting it on has been both challenging and extremely fulfilling.” Senior Maddie Solano LaForme who played Juror #7 in the Thursday performance commented, “This show is unlike anything we’ve ever done before. The challenge of it is being able to adopt our characters’ mindsets despite our individual beliefs with the case.”

Virtuoso’s pattern is to present a play in the winter and a musical in the spring. For the seniors, their last time performing in a high school play gave them mixed feelings. Zofina Fink said, “Having this show be my last high school play was so bittersweet, and I will hold on to the memory of it forever. Virtuoso means the world to me, and I’m so lucky to have worked with such a special cast.” While some cast members may have been privately lamenting their last play, the freshmen members of the group were excited to have their Virtuoso careers begin. Ninth-grader McKenzie Heasley who portrayed Juror #5 said that the experience was “Magical. I’m more in love with theatre than I’ve ever been.”

The play was co-directed by Carina McNear and English teacher Jessica Carpenter. They commented after the show, “We are beyond proud of the talent, dedication, and work ethic of our students. This play challenged their theatrical skills as well as teaching them the life lesson of listening to hear one another and not just to respond.”

The cast members were: Zofina Fink, Emily Wolfgang, Jacob Cuddeback, McKenzie Heasley, Breanna Gardner, Maddie Solano LaForme, Avery Jessel, Laura Ulrich, Jaelyn Woods, Dylan Ring, Caleb Hipple, Emma Klopp, Sophia Grab, Catalin Torok, Whitney Bolden, Jermaine Bolden, Carson Bloom, Julia Stetts, Cheyenne Knouse, Wyatt Stugart, Molly Slattery, Brooke Bartlow, and Megan Bartlow.

The crew members were: Carina McNear, Jessica Carpenter, James Carpenter, Jermaine Bolden, Courtney Skelton, Brooke Bartlow, Molly Slattery, Megan Bartlow, Jaelyn Woods, Catalin Torok, Larry Ryan, Mirabelle Fink, Grace Bopp, and Carter Smith.