Inherit the Wind, San Diego

Written by:
Lynne Friedmann
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‘Inherit the Wind’

Written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Directed by Adrian Noble
The Old Globe, San Diego
June 17 – Sept. 25, 2012

When “Inherit the Wind” was originally staged half a century ago, this fictionalized story of the landmark 1925Scopes Monkey Trial was meant as a swipe at then-contemporary McCarthyism of 1955. How ironic that what takes place in the play’s small town of Hillsboro, in an unnamed state in the central part of the United States, continues to speak to ideological rifts in 2012 America. Not only the origins of human life, but roaring debates about the science of climate change, stem-cell research, genetically modified foods, green energy, and the safety of childhood vaccinations.

Viewed in the light of modern-day science denial, The Old Globe production of “Inherit the Wind” shines.

The Scopes Trial involved a high school science teacher, John Scopes, accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of “any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

In “Inherit the Wind,” fictional characters Matthew Harrison Brady, Henry Drummond, Bertram Cates, and E. K. Hornbeck correspond to the historical Scopes Trial trial lawyers William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, high school teacher John Thomas Scopes, andcelebrated newspaperman H. L. Mencken, respectively.

Robert Foxworth (as Brady) and Adrian Sparks (as Drummond) turn in powerful performances with much of the play focused on the conflicts between the two. In the courtroom, the men battle like a pair of elephant seals.

Director Adrian Noble has assembled one of the largest casts at the Globe for a non-musical: often 25 actors on stage at once.With that many characters, most are one-dimensional. Exceptions are stand-out performances by Charles Janasz (as brimstone-spewing Reverend Brown) and Vivia Font as Rachel Brown (the conflicted daughter of Rev. Brown as well as Bertram Cates’ financée). Reporter E. K. Hornbeck (played by Joseph Marcell) provides crucial commentary as well as comic relief to the story. And, Marcell has a field day with the role.

On the page, “Inherit the Wind” takes place in a courtroom. Yet, the Globe’s outdoor stage setting of the drama is closer to history than one might suspect. The 1925 Scopes Trial created such a frenzy, the proceedings were moved outside to a lawn for fear the floor of the over-capacity courtroom would collapse.

And what a stage scenic designer Ralph Funicello has given us. Dozens of long, wooden kitchen tables – from turn of the century through the 1930s — the likes of which once provided a focal point for small-town America to discuss the issues of the day. The tables perform duty as a fishing dock, a railroad platform, the jail where school teacher Cates is incarcerated awaiting trial, the town square, a prayer meeting, and the kangaroo courtroom. Deirdre Clancy’s tan and brown costumes key off of the unvarnished wood.

A jury box was created by replacing the first row of audience seating in the middle section with wooden kitchen chairs. Each performance, 10 playgoers unexpectedly find themselves observing the action from those seats along with two actor jurors as the courtroom scenes play out.

One would assume that the Globe audience (of a certain age) would find no surprises in “Inherit the Wind,” being familiar with the 1960 motion-picture treatment staring Spencer Tracy and Frederic March. Apparently not, for the audience collectively gasped when the judged rules that scientists cannot testify in a trial about a guiding principle of modern science.

While the story explicitly pits the teaching of creationism against Darwin’s theory of evolution, its themes apply to all threats to intellectual freedom.

“Inherit the Wind” is performed in repertory with Shakespeare’s”As You Like It” and “Richard III.”

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