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Detroit Lakes High School has new take on classic drama

Juror Rachel Skaaland narrates the details of the murder for use in the jury's deliberations.1 / 4
Juror Tanner Yocum, left, demonstrates on Alex Renner how the angle of the knife wound used in the murder could have been inflicted.2 / 4
Alex Renner, center, plays the lone juror who believes the possibility of reasonable doubt in a seemingly cut and dried court case in the Detroit Lakes Public School production of 12 Angry Jurors. The play is set for April 23-25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Detroit Lakes Middle School George Simson Auditorium. Tickets are available at Central Market.3 / 4
Andrea Williams, left, gets in Alex Renner's face during a debate on the authenticity of a witness.4 / 4

There are no elaborate sets to move around, costumes to hide behind and no fake accents to learn, but it's one of the hardest performances the Detroit Lakes High School has brought to stage.

"There is nothing to lean on but dialogue," Director Mark Everson said.

In an updated version of 12 Angry Men, to include women and current time references, 12 Angry Jurors is set for April 23-25 at 7:30 p.m. nightly in the Detroit Lakes Middle School George Simson Auditorium. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and are for sale at Central Market.

"Essentially, the plot is identical" to the original movie, Everson said.

The entire performance takes place inside the jurors' deliberation room. Though it seems to be an open and shut case of murder, one juror manages to convince the remaining 11 jurors that "if they're deciding the fate (of a man's life), it deserves some discussion," Everson explained.

Like any murder trial, the defense must prove reasonable doubt, not necessarily innocence.

"It's a great demonstration of how the court system works," Everson said. With a variety of people, and what they believe, sitting on a jury, "there is no non-biased way to try a case."

It's that psychological thinking that lured Everson to the play. Plus, "the irony for me -- I was selected for jury duty this year," he added with a laugh.

This dramatic performance is all about reaction -- and constant reaction at that. The entire performance is the jurors together in one room, and it's not just about the two characters speaking, but engaging the entire cast at all times.

"If they're not interested, we're not going to be interested," he said. "It's never been as important to not jump ahead and see what's going to happen."

Getting into that angry character was tough in the beginning, too.

"At first, it was the 12 depressed jurors," Everson said, laughing.

Kelsey Wenner said "finding the character" was the hardest part, because she's not used to being in such a subtle role.

"We're on stage all the time, so you always have to be acting," Cara Berger, who serves as one of the three understudies, said.

Memorizing the exact lines was tough also, because ad-libbing just wouldn't work.

"It's a court case, so you have to get the facts right or the audience isn't going to know what's going on," Alex Renner said.

But the hardest part, actually, has been to fake the hot temperatures in the juror room. "We're still working on that," Everson added.

New to the stage, Tré Martinez said he thought "that it would be interesting to try. I didn't know anything about it (the original movie) before."

In fact, only one of the cast members had watched the 1957 movie, starring Henry Fonda. The play hit Broadway years later, with George Wendt (Cheers) and Richard Thomas (The Waltons) starring.

Martinez's addition to the play was nice to "really help to have diversity," Everson said.

It's likely the most experienced cast Everson has ever directed, with nine seniors, two juniors and one sophomore on stage. All but two of them have had lead roles in other school plays or musicals in the past.

Cast members for the production are Mollie Kuether, Kelsey Wenner, Paige Johnson, Peter Johnson, Tré Martinez, Tanner Yocum, Andrea Williams, Thressa Johnson, Sydney Henderson, Alex Renner, Bryce Dutton and Rachel Skaaland as the jurors, and Bryan Lee as the guard.

Renner was cast as the lone juror who convinces the remaining jurors to rethink the evidence. Everson said he chose Renner because his character holds a lot of weight in the production, and Renner is one of the most experienced and reliable actors he works with.

"He's good at being smart, while being passionate at the same time," he said.

Although Renner's character is important, "nobody is left in the dirt," meaning there is no lead part, Everson added.

"All the characters are so different; there's the full spectrum, so (the audience) can relate to one of them," Paige Johnson said.

But those characters take their toll as well. Rachel Skaaland said she gets headaches because she puts so much into her character.

Bryce Dutton agrees it's sometimes hard to get back out of character. Johnson said she now knows why she seems mad after play practice.

"There are a few who found their characters easier than others," Everson agreed.