WALLA WALLA -- Portraying a bigot in The Little Theatre's production of 12 Angry Men is easier than many other roles, said Tri-City actor Porky Thomsen.
"I think it's always easier to play a character that is not like yourself," Thomsen said. "It's when you're acting out a role that is much like yourself that I think is difficult.
"I play the 10th juror in this classic story, and he's the worst type of bigot you can think of, and I'm nothing like that. He's a bully as well, but he gets his comeuppance in the end."
The courthouse drama centers around a young man from a city slum whose life is on the line as he goes on trial for allegedly murdering his father. The defendant, who is never seen and referred to only as "the boy," is facing the death penalty.
After the defense and prosecuting attorneys give their closing arguments, the jury members are sequestered to deliberate his guilt or innocence. Most of the play takes place within the confines of the jury room.
Several of the jurors have personal prejudices against the accused, who they see as an ignorant slum kid. Others are blinded into believing questionable evidence the prosecution presented during the trial.
But juror No. 8 is the only one to not initially vote for a guilty verdict. He argues the evidence was all circumstantial and that the accused deserves fair deliberation.
The plot then follows the back and forth among the jurors as they sift through the evidence and work toward a verdict.
The production opens Feb. 11 at The Little Theatre in Walla Walla. Curtain time is 8 p.m.
Jeff Schlicher, who is co-directing the play with Gloria Schille, first saw the film version of 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb when he was young.
"The show made an immediate impact on me," he said. "I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see a professional touring company production in Seattle three years ago and knew this show had to be performed in Walla Walla.
"The Seattle production featured Richard Thomas (of The Waltons fame) as juror No. 8 and George Wendt (of Cheers) as the foreman. I remember sitting there mesmerized, totally drawn into the acting of the play."
The story is as relevant today as it was in 1954 when the original teleplay (a play written for TV) was written, he said.
"It's about one man who stands up against the prejudice and bias of others to make them see the reasonable doubt," Schlicher said.
Thomsen, a veteran actor, has wanted to be part of a 12 Angry Men production for a long time. And evidently so did plenty of other Mid-Columbia residents.
"In all the years I've auditioned for various plays, I've never seen so many people turn out to audition for this one," Thomsen said. "And everyone was so good. The final cast has been great to work with."
The play continues Feb. 12, 18-20, 25-26. The Little Theater is at 1130 Sumach St., off Highway 12 in Walla Walla.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $9 for students and senior citizens, and are available at the door.
*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org