By Frank Stanko
Do I have reasonable doubt about deciding a young man is guilty of murder?
That’s the question asked by “Twelve Angry Men” in the play directed by Melissa Frank. Starting Tuesday, Nov. 8, it will be performed only three times at North Dakota State College of Science’s Bremer Bank Theatre. Despite the name, “Twelve Angry Men” has an equal amount of male and female actors in its cast.
Over the course of the play, Juror No. 8 (Daniel Paluck) uses logic and reasoning to explain why he initially cast the one vote against convicting the young man. His strongest opposition comes from Juror No. 3 (Tory Safranski), a mother who makes her decisions more from the heart than the head.
“The jurors slowly come to realize that the events and witnesses presented by the prosecution may not be reliable,” Frank said. “They admit that the accused may in fact be guilty of the crime, but since there is a reasonable doubt, they cannot convict.”
As this happens, the audience learns more about the personal lives and beliefs of each juror. According to Frank, none of her cast was given a name or occupation for his or her character, providing them with a mostly blank slate. She was, however, “greatly inspired” by the 1957 Academy Award-nominated film “12 Angry Men,” which starred Henry Fonda. The film was renamed and adapted by Reginald Rose from his 1954 made-for-television play “Twelve Angry Men.” It subsequently was adapted again by Sherman L. Sergel to be performed on the stage.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’m a very angry person at times — (when) traffic is killer’ — why not bring some of that out and just make the nastiest character ever so Dan looks like a sweetheart?” Safranski remembered. “I try to find (a characterization) that’s consistent, sounds good and is believable.”
Late in the play, Juror No. 10 (Noah Dobmeier) gives a monologue revealing his bigotry and paranoia. As he’s speaking, each member of the cast eventually turns his or her back on him.
“There’s a lot of different ways that he thinks, but he has trouble verbalizing them. There’s a kind of agony and frustration with that. I think it’s really fun to watch that boil over when I go on my page-long racist monologue,” said Dobmeier, who added that it was challenging and exhilarating to make the audience think, believe and feel “Wow, I really don’t like him.”
Because nearly half of the play’s actors have previously worked with Frank, she said there’s an ease in knowing what to expect from each other.
“It would be easy for me to give the larger parts (entirely) to the veteran actors, but if I did that, I would have never known how awesome Noah is as Juror No. 10. He learned his lines early on and has been one of my most reliable actors … I had no hesitation in casting (Paluck) as the lead. He has a natural charm that the audience will be drawn to,” she added.
“Twelve Angry Men” features one set, the jury room which becomes stifling as the air conditioning fails. According to Frank, having one set allows the actors to stay in character.
“With this being the first dramatic play that I have directed, I wanted it to be a challenge, but not overwhelming,” she said.
Among the cast members is Randy King of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Like his character, Juror No. 9, King is older than the other cast members.
“While I am able to cast from the community, the majority of my actors are college students in their early 20s,” Frank said. “Unless you are a really strong actor, it is difficult to play someone significantly older than you. You don’t have the life experience to pull from. Fortunately, I felt the script gave me options. Juror No. 9 is a keen observer of people and had closely watched the prosecution’s witnesses, an older man and a middle-aged woman, whom he understood and with whom he identified. … I was fortunate to have Randy step into the role, which he fits perfectly.”
Earlier in his acting career, King played Juror No. 11, an immigrant tailor (now played as a seamstress by Lanae Ekberg). He didn’t find it challenging to work with college-aged actors.
“When I came to the first rehearsal and saw the cast was mixed (having men and women), I thought, ‘This is going to be different,’” King remembered. “But it works really well.”
Among the other angry people is Mel Kompelien’s Juror No. 7, who’s impatient and quick with her wit.
“When we (were rehearsing), you’d come out at the end and there’d be a moment where you’d say, ‘Oh, it’s done. Okay, I have to breathe a bit and now we’re good,” Kompelien said.
For Sam Bartz, whose Juror No. 7 teams up with Juror No. 6 (Elysee Mahangama) to stop Safranski from fighting with Paluck, physical acting is something to “roll with.”
“When I’m holding Tory back, that part is really well acted out in my opinion. It’s like I’m actually trying to fight her,” he said.
For Frank, “Twelve Angry Men” is a play that’s still “absolutely relevant” in how it emphasizes facts before the matter of who the defendant is.
“I hope the audience gets involved and thinks ‘I’m a part of this’ and this is actually occurring in real life. This is not just a play, people are doing this in real life. Everything just goes around in circles” said Emma Jensen, who plays Juror No. 1.
Also in the cast are Walker Bonn as Juror No. 2, Hope Krumm as Juror No. 4, Mike Martens as Juror No. 12, Carly Eback as the guard and Madison Nelson-Gira as the judge.
Performances of “Twelve Angry Men” are at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8 through Thursday, Nov. 10. It will run approximately 90 minutes. The Bremer Bank Theatre is in NDSCS’ Stern Cultural Center. Admission is free, with donations and non-perishable food pantry items appreciated.
Read the full article online at wahpetondailynews.com.