By Frank Stanko
‘And Her Biggest Case Ever’
A fixture of bookshelves around the world. The focus of a display this month at Wahpeton’s Leach Public Library. Her adventures are told on TV, in movies and through video games. It doesn’t take a first class sleuth to know she’s Nancy Drew, coming to the stage at North Dakota State College of Science.
“Nancy Drew and Her Biggest Case Ever,” written by Jeff Frank and John Maclay, is directed by Melissa Frank and stars Mel Kompelien as the 1930s crime-solver, created by Carolyn Keene. It will be performed for one weekend only, starting Friday, Nov. 20 at NDSCS’ Bremer Bank Theatre.
Nancy takes the case of Laura (Lanae Ekberg) and Trixie Pendleton (Carly Eback), sisters convinced their guardian (Sam Sagvold) is more interested in their late father’s buried treasure than he claims. With best friends Bess Marvin (Tory Safranski) and George Fayne (Rhianna Kurtz) – and some judo skills – Nancy survives a ski chase, near-drowning, two kidnappings, a boat explosion and the worrying of housekeeper Hannah (Miranda Glenn), father Carson (Caleb Lee) and boyfriend Ned Nickerson (Daniel Paluck).
“She’s really smart, doesn’t take anyone’s stuff,” Kompelien said of Nancy. “She’s her own person, so it’s about being a powerful character.” Kompelien, a third-year student, has been involved with theater since high school, but admitted that when she tried out for “Biggest Case Ever,” she didn’t expect to get the lead role.
“Biggest Case Ever,” conceived in 2014 by Frank and Maclay of the First Stage Theatre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is receiving its third production at NDSCS. It’s also the third show directed by Melissa Frank, who spent more than 10 years designing costumes for the Menomonie Theater Guild in Menomonie, Wisconsin.
“I have kind of free reign, I guess,” Frank said regarding the shows she picks. “I let (NDSCS) know what I’m thinking of and I think if they would object to anything, then I’d of course abide by that. The shows, the theater is for the students, because the student fees pay for all of our costumes and props and everything, but then, I also want to appeal to the community, so there’s a good balancing act.
“You know, do I want to do a show that everybody’s heard of, so that they’ll come, or do I want to push the boundaries with something no one’s heard of?” she asked.
Frank is mindful of the content of her plays, especially since she brings her children to auditions and rehearsals. “I try to do something that’s not specifically geared toward kids, but I hope that you can bring the kids and it would be OK.”
During “Biggest Case Ever,” an ensemble of actors in black clothing are used to manipulate props and set pieces. The cast affectionately refer to them as “kokens,” referring to an aspect of Japanese theater. The kokens are perhaps most prominently featured as Nancy’s roadster in a scene that allows Safranski the chance to show off her screaming skills.
Frank is open to theatrical newcomers.
“We can use you regardless of your experience,” she said. “It’s nice to have people who have lots of experience and will act professionally, but I’ve also loved having people who have never done it before. It’s hard to put yourself out there and as much as people may be surprised to find out, I’m kind of an introvert myself. Having to talk in front of a cast of 15 people, it’s not always easy. But it’s a great place to get to know people.”
The cast, Frank continued, has been so friendly and welcoming to all, a sentiment Kompelien agrees with.
“We’re drama kids, we’re accepting of our own,” Kompelien said.
Performances of “Nancy Drew and Her Biggest Case Ever” are at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19 and Friday, Nov. 20, and 12 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21. It will run approximately 90 minutes and for one of the performances, there will be an intermission. The Bremer Bank Theatre is in NDSCS’ Stern Cultural Center. Admission is free, with donations and non-perishable food pantry items appreciated.
Full article from the Wahpeton Daily News