Rob Kranc, director of Crown Point Community Theatre’s production of “Judgment at Nuremberg,” said the messages found in the post-World War II drama remain just as important today.
“Even though it’s about German judges that are on trial, it deals with things such as rights taken away, things like too much patriotism,” he said. “It talks about how a culture can end up doing something like Germany did and how this can happen in other countries. It’s just as relevant today on that level.”
Opening Jan. 18, “Judgment” will be passed and staged at the Lake County Courthouse. The acclaimed legal drama is scheduled to run at the historic courthouse through Jan. 27.
Taking its cue from real life military tribunals held against surviving leaders of Nazi Germany in the years following their defeat in World War II, “Judgment” follows the trial of four veteran German judges, who carried out the law of the land under Adolf Hitler’s reign prior to and during the war. The judges are accused of a myriad of atrocities during the Nazi regime and prosecuted in Nuremberg by allied judges.
Penned by Abby Mann, “Judgment” was first seen on television as an episode of CBS’ “Playhouse 90” in the 1950s.
In 1961, “Judgment” made its premiere on the big screen. Boosted by an all-star cast, which included Montgomery Clift, Spencer Tracy, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich, “Judgment” was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, with Schell taking home the Best Actor trophy and Mann receiving the Best Adapted Screenplay statue.
“Judgment” was also staged on Broadway for a near two-month run in 2001.
Crown Point Community Theatre’s staging of “Judgment” marks their fourth production within the confines of Lake County Courthouse. Past courtroom productions produced by the theater company there include “Witness for the Prosecution,” “Inherit the Wind,” and last year they brought “A Few Good Men” to the stately building.
According to Crown Point Community Theatre president Anne Nicholls, joining forces with the Lake Court House Foundation, which promotes and preserves the 130-year-old-plus building, has proven to be beneficial for the company.
“It’s nice for us to get out of our usual space and become part of the community. A lot of people didn’t realize we were even around until we started doing these shows with the Court House Foundation,” she said. “And we like sharing and giving back to Crown Point. It’s nice for us to give back.”
“Audiences like to see that something different can happen in a courtroom,” Nicholls added. “The audiences that I’ve seen just enjoy being in the building and being in the space and seeing the plays in that setting.”
To Kranc, the courtroom setting breathes new life into the story that wouldn’t be felt on a traditional stage.
“The courtroom adds another dimension,” he said. “Because you’re in an actual courtroom and you’re using everything in there, it’s like you stepped into a time machine and you’re actually there (at the trial). It adds an extra dimension and brings a sense of realism.”
“Judgment” marks Kranc’s directorial debut for Crown Point Community Theatre. He was a cast member in the company’s productions of “Wind” and “Men.”
“It was an excellent education,” Kranc said of his previous courtroom production experience. “You got to see what it was like performing in the space, what do do, and what not to do. And these dramas aren’t just shows where people are in the courtroom and arguing and then they pass a verdict. These have (more substance) behind them.”
For “Judgment,” Kranc and Crown Point Community Theatre assembled a cast of 18 area thesps, including Wayne Puchkors from St. John as chief judge Haywood, Andy Leahy from Chicago Heights as defendant Ernst Janning, Crown Point’s William Milhans as the attorney for the defense, Hans Rolfe, and Tony Cortina, also from Crown Point, as U.S. Army Captain Byers, a witness to the atrocities.
“When I told people I was doing this play, they said ‘you better have great actors,’ and I have not been disappointed with anybody,” Kranc said. “Everybody has looked at their script and tried to figure out what their character is thinking and has really done a terrific job getting to know their characters. We’re helping each other out in a way like a family.”