As I entered Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace stage, I looked at an almost barren stage. A simple chair on Stage Right and table draped in a black cloth on Stage Left. At the foot of the stage was a Go Pro camera set up to film the performance for the artist’s to presumably go over afterwards. There were also several nursery rhymes being played as pre-show music, most notably “Rub-a-dub-dub”. The show started in pitch black and a voice over of a murder and then a judge speaking at a trial. When the lights came up the sole actor Adam Francis Proulx was standing in the middle of the stage wearing a puppet. One hand was controlling the mouth and head and the other hand was in a glove that was the puppet’s body left hand. The ‘puppet’ was holding up a large briefcase that read jury box.
When the show started what proceeded was almost an hour of nonstop laughs and very impressive acting from Proulx. With the lights low, not out, he opened the jury box and stuck on facial features to the puppet to create an old man. Gary the old man told us about the case of a baker who was brutally murdered in his own bathtub and the butcher, his partner, was the man on trial since the murder weapon was a meat cleaver. We are also told a third man, a candlestick maker, was also at the scene of the crime as the three men were having a tryst. Gary who rambled on also told us that 11 of the 12 jurors thought the butcher was guilty, all except the jury foreman who is just 18 years old.
The whole of the play was brief vignettes, some as short as 30 seconds, some as long as 7-8 minutes of Proulx going through each juror. He showed us 12 very unique personalities with half of them males and the other half females. The lights never went out fully so the audience could see Proulx changing over the puppet’s features, which became a part of the show, setting up the new character. If it were a woman, the puppet would gently brush her hair after the wig was put on in a way of primping. Then as soon as the scene was about to begin, Proulx would adapt the features of the new character, like one girl who was chewing gum, Proulx would loudly smack his lips for every bite.
Part of the enjoyment of the play was you had to watch both the puppet and the actor perform as they combined to make a character whole. There was a homophobic old man who has a moral dilemma, philandering wife who was turned on by the crime, a nerdy man who mulled over the ethics of trials by jury, a ditzy blonde woman who had a hint of intelligence behind her dumb as a brick attitude, a hillbilly farmer who spoke about tolerance in his own hick ways and many more.
The show was very self aware as one character makes a crack about her son wanting to be a puppeteer and how it was a stupid career choice, to making topical jokes about the state of Toronto lead by our currently disgraced mayor. There is an old joke about the chain Coffee Time, that “when there’s Time, there’s crime” and that was included as a bit how in some of the crime scene photos you could see the Coffee Time in the background.
The play felt like a reworking of the classic film 12 Angry Men, in which twelve jurors are locked in a room and must decide the fate of a young man accused of killing his father. All the jurors are ready to declare the boy guilty and hand him the death penalty except one man. All it takes is one juror to open the conversation up. There were some clever musings wrapped up in comedy, which was a great touch. There were bits talking about how people get wrapped up in eyewitnesses and ‘CSI-like evidence’ even though they are not guaranteed to be right, or how trusting a trial in the hands of your peers is crazy since everyone has their own prejudices and are not experts in law. The play made me think how I would act if I ever got summoned for jury duty, what would happen if I let a innocent person go to jail, or if I let a guilty person free?
The play worked best because Proulx has a fantastic personality and a knack for creating different characters, even if some of them seemed a bit stereotypical. The solid direction by Nicole Stamp kept things fast paced and moving along. The point of the play wasn’t to show the verdict as we are left with a bit of a cliffhanger, but to show the inner thoughts of what a jury might be thinking during a trial, especially when they purposely all come from different backgrounds. It’s Avenue Q (Proulx was actually a member of the original Canadian run) meets 12 Angry Men and it works amazingly. Baker’s Dozen has one show left on July 13th at 4PM, go and see what a talented performer Adam Francis Proulx is.