Audience acts as jury


POSTED: Friday, September 25, 2009

Jury duty is a task many citizens dread for one reason or another—lost income, inconvenience, boredom (if the case is boring) or perhaps the risk of unwanted public visibility if the case involves a high-profile act of violence or dangerous defendant.

Brad Powell, artistic director of the Actors Group, is hoping theater fans will leave those fears at the door and volunteer to be jurors for a night as TAG continues its 2009-10 season with Ayn Rand's 1934 courtroom drama, “;The Night of January 16.”;

Twelve members of the audience will be selected to weigh the evidence and determine the outcome as Karen Andre (Elizabeth Wolfe) is tried for the murder of disgraced swindler and financier Bjorn Faulkner.

Not all 65-year old Broadway productions age well, but in the aftermath of last year's financial collapse, Powell found the premise eerily timely.

“;When the whole thing with Bernie Madoff came out and we started seeing all the corruption in Washington, I remembered that this play was written right at the height of the last (great) depression, and it's all built around a man who did a Ponzi scheme and cheated everybody,”; Powell said late last week.





        » Where: The Actors Group Theater, 1116 Smith St.

» When: 7:30 p.m. today; continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 18


» Cost: $20 general admission ($10 on Thursdays); discounts available


» Info: 722-6941 or www.taghawaii.net




Rand's fictional swindler, Bjorn Faulkner, bilked investors while trying to corner the gold market, and was facing bankruptcy—and potential criminal charges—following a stock market crash that ended the flow of new money into his operation. On the night of Jan. 16, Faulkner fell from his luxury penthouse atop the Faulkner building in New York City.

Faulkner's life and death parallels to a certain extent that of Swedish “;Match King”; Ivar Kreuger, who at one time in the 1920s ruled a financial empire with a “;paper value”; equivalent to more than $100 billion in contemporary buying power. Kreuger was found dead, an apparent suicide, after the Crash of 1929 exposed much of his financial “;empire”; as little more than a Ponzi scheme.

FAULKNER IS already dead when the play opens. The action takes place in the courtroom, where his longtime mistress, Karen Andre, is on trial for murder. She claims that Faulkner committed suicide.

Guilty? Not guilty?

That's up to the jury, and there is a different jury each night.

“;I think it's going to be fun because they have to become a part of (the action),”; Powell said. “;During the intermission, the bailiff will brief them on how quick they have to make (their decision). They actually have about six minutes to deliberate (off stage, later in the show), select a foreman and then vote.”;

Although there are only two choices—guilty or not guilty—and the jury can't find Andre guilty of a lesser charge, no one knows for sure what Rand intended the truth of the case to be. The director's notes don't state whether Andre killed Faulkner, and Rand, who died in 1982, apparently never revealed what the correct verdict was—or whether she intended the question to forever go unanswered.

Powell said a few characters “;probably are in the know”; about the circumstances of Faulkner's death, but the actors playing them are not supposed to tell anyone—even the other members of the cast—if the character is testifying honestly.

Powell therefore doesn't know whether Wolfe is playing an innocent woman or a guilty one. And he doesn't plan on asking her, either.