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Interim President Jeff Ettinger inside Morrill Hall on Sept. 20, 2023. Ettinger gets deep with the Daily: “It’s bittersweet.”
Ettinger reflects on his presidency
Published April 22, 2024

A famous play the Law School way

TORT, a group of Law School students and faculty members, is parodying “West Side Story,” with help from guest stars in the law field.

Gang warfare has invaded the Law School’s Mondale Hall, or at least the fictitious one presented as the backdrop for the annual play by the Theatre of the Relatively Talentless.

The theater, which comprises law students and faculty members, parodies the classic musical “West Side Story” in its fourth-annual production.

The group rewrote the romantic tragedy as a comedy. Four sold-out shows run today through Saturday at the St. Paul Student Center on the University’s St. Paul campus.

The story remains basically the same. Tony, played by second-year law student Trevor Helmers, falls in love with Maria, played by second-year law student Sarah Schwenker.

Tony and Maria are in opposing cliques, which provides the conflict for the production. The play pits the public interest lawyers against “the Sharks,” or corporate lawyers.

Beyond writing and acting, the group also rewrote popular songs for the musical. Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” and “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” were among those tweaked to fit the law school theme.

The show makes jokes at the expense of everything from other law schools to legal issues, such as the legalization of marijuana.

The play also earns laughs at the expense of professors from the school. Music director David Gates, a third-year law student, plays professor Brad Clary.

“Law school students are always doing impressions of our teachers. We spend so much time with them that we can really pick up on their quirks and mannerisms,” Gates said.

Because all of the law students have the same group of professors, the impressions are universally understood, he said.

Those involved in the group, which now boasts 65 members, range in experience from ex-performing arts majors to those with no previous experience.

The theater has received a warm reception by the school, campus and law community. Prominent figures within the state’s law community have agreed to cameo appearances.

The most notable of these cameos is former Vice President Walter Mondale, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University in 1951 and a Bachelor of Law degree in 1956. Mondale has been a guest in the theater’s three previous productions. Although he is not participating this year, he is expected to attend a performance.

“(Mondale) remembers everyone from the group, and I think he is going to enjoy just watching from the audience this year instead of having to act on stage,” said Helmers, who also said he enjoyed yelling at Mondale during last year’s production.

Cameos for this year’s play include Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, Federal District Judge John R. Tunheim, Minnesota Chief Justice Russell A. Anderson and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson. Professors and faculty members from the law school also participate.

The actors make jokes to laugh at their own expense, said third-year law student Kurtis Parlin, who plays Merger.

“Law students tend to take things far too seriously. It is a chance for us to make fun of the eccentricities of law school life,” Parlin said.

Mike Reif, a third-year law student who plays Pro Bono, said the theater was important, among other things, in meeting people from all three classes at the school.

“TORT is so important because it’s one of the few places in law school where you can show old talents or find new ones that never get to surface in class or anywhere else at school, where people can be creative and funny and let go of the stress of law school for awhile,” he said.

Although the production allows the group to relax, it also provides a level of stress. First-year law students, such as Bree Richards, who designed set lighting and operates the sound board, have a large assignment due this week.

“(The production) is a fairly large commitment. We have an important brief due this week. Rehearsals eat up time, so it is important to balance schoolwork with the play,” she said.

Although the jokes are mostly at the expense of the law community, those outside of the group will still have a good time, Schwenker said.

“The law school is a microcosm for the struggles of all young adults, so everyone can identify with the humor,” she said.

Marisa Wiesman, a third-year law student directing the show, is anticipating a successful opening night.

“This will be TORT’s best show ever,” she said. “That’s the nice thing about being a young organization, every year is better than the last.”

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