Inherit the Wind is a fictitious account of the actual Scopes “monkey” trial of 1925, in which a high school teacher was criminally prosecuted in Tennessee for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. It made its Broadway debut in 1955 to both critical acclaim and box office success. Originally written as an indictment of the attack upon intellectual freedom that had occurred during the McCarthy era, this play’s theme of science versus creationism resonates to this day.
Most of the drama takes place in the courtroom, and credible casting of the two lawyers, who were giants of their time, is a daunting task for a small amateur company. Prosecutor Matthew Harrison Brady (Allen Siverson) is loosely based upon three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, a great orator and statesman. And Henry Drummond (James Pearson) is the legendary criminal defense attorney and ACLU member Clarence Darrow. Remarkably, producer Beth Dewey and director K. DaVette See were able to find a couple of actors perfectly suited for their respective parts.
Siverson, to his credit, refuses to undermine his devout character by falling pray to glib caricature. Instead, he brings a gravitas and dignity to a role that even the playwrights unfairly lampoon on occasion. Pearson, as the agnostic litigator, displays an unerring confidence, keen wit and intelligence, along with an eloquent speaking voice, which are essential to his rather convincing portrayal. And their scenes together are often quite riveting. Bravo!
The set is a utilitarian, albeit somewhat awkward, design by Rob See, featuring a pair of canopies – supporting a large banner of “READ YOUR BIBLE” – located upstage that serves as an entrance to a traditional courtroom setting placed downstage. The spectators (who are often quite vocal) sit on chairs positioned in the area normally reserved for the orchestra pit.
Doug Doughty plays E.K. Hornbeck (aka H.L. Menckin), the cynical, acerbic critic and journalist who covers the case for the Baltimore Herald. His condescending, colorful commentary on the Christian fundamentalism of Brady and the rural townsfolk is reminiscent of a Greek chorus and decidedly biased in favor of Bertram Cates, the beleaguered educator (the fine Robert Hamilton). Doughty somehow captures just the right tone of wry humor and derision without ever becoming off-putting.
Of particular note is Scott Lynch as the Reverend Jeremiah Brown, whose sermon of the “Book of Genesis” and rabid condemnation of Cates’ alleged sacrilege – that takes places during a court recess – is truly an inspired, if not downright disturbing, piece of acting.
Charity Berg also impresses as the preacher’s daughter and Cates’ love interest, Rachel Brown, conveying an agonizing ambivalence and genuine dread at her father’s idolatry and intolerance. And she’s adorned with some of the most stunning flapper costuming on stage by Kay Jeni-Spence and Kimberly Lynch.
And one would be remiss if one failed to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of John Brewer, whose exceptional versatility is beyond exemplary, and Zack Goller, Makena McElroy and Wayne Dewey, whose delightful supporting turns transcend the smallness of their roles.
Yes, there are the minor lighting miscues and flubbing of lines typical of community theatre, but the undeniable talent in evidence and the timeliness of the topic make this a highly worthwhile production of an American classic.
Inherit the Wind
3.5 out of 5 stars (Good)
South Valley Civic Theatre
Directed by K. DaVette See
Written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
August 5 – 21, 2011
Morgan Hill Community Playhouse