by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Theatre Jacksonville is presenting one of the best written American plays of the past century, on stage through March 26. Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee’s classic Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account of the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee about teaching evolution in the schools; the authors wrote the play as a critique of McCarthyism. Major figures from the past were involved in this historic episode which became a media sensation, including Williams Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow and H. L. Mencken. The title comes from a verse in the Old Testament book of Proverbs: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”
This 1955 play has soft-spoken Tennessee science teacher Bertram Cates (Josh Waller) being prosecuted for teaching evolution using Charles Darwin’s book, a violation of Tennessee law. Agnostic attorney Henry Drummond (Kent Lindsey) comes to town to defend Cates against the respected conservative prosecutor Matthew Harrison Brady (John Pope), who believes that biological teachings should be restricted to a literal interpretation of the Biblical account.
Director Michael Lipp has assembled a strong cast of twenty-seven new and veteran actors, and it was evident from the opening lines that all the actors understood the importance of their individual roles. Even when they had to sit for long periods of time as spectators in the court room, they remained in character throughout as they reacted from moment to moment to the events of the trial.
The play has many colorful characters starting with the opening announcement by Radio Man (Sean Olin) using an authentic microphone from the 1920s.
Although the subject sounds and was indeed serious, there is a lot of humor, much of it provided by the Baltimore newspaper critic E. K. Hornbeck (Jason Collins) who was always saying very clever and quotable things. Veteran character actor Jack Barnard was the Judge and looked the part and was certainly judicious. It was good to see Mark Snitzer back on the TJ stage as Meeker, the town bailiff. Snitzer won the Best Supporting Actor award in Anything Goes in 1994.
Sara Murphy returns to the TJ stage; she was Joyce in A Vampire Reflects. Ms. Murphy is Rachel Brown, Reverend Brown’s daughter and the girlfriend of Bertram Cates. Her scenes with Waller as Cates are well done as she tries to convince him he is wrong about evolution.
On opening weekend, the role of Reverend Jeremiah Brown was played by Director Lipp due to a family emergency for Kenny Logsdon, who should be back to complete the run.
John Pope is superb as the righteous pontificator, Matthew Brady. Pope was last seen on the Theatre Jacksonville stage as a minster in God’s Man in Texas.
Kent Lindsey plays Henry Drummond, the lawyer hired by Baltimore newspaper. Lindsey‘s portrayal is mostly subtle as he gives meaning to every twinge and gesture, raising his voice and temper in a controlled manner. If you’ve been around Jacksonville for a few years, you may recognize Kent from his popular local TV role as Safari Sam. Lindsey is part-owner of a film and video production company, and has appeared in films that included Glory, Passenger 57 and G. I. Jane.
The set design by Kelly Wagoner and Technical Director Jeff Wagoner uses a slightly raked stage, and extends from the very back of the stage to the edge of a platform built over the space usually used as the orchestra pit. The backdrop includes an outline of the courthouse entrance and two churches, which emphasizes the play’s cultural setting. The center is a large sunken pit, which serves as the courtroom, with space around the sides used for a number of different settings, as well as a gallery for courtroom spectators. The audience becomes the jury, which the lawyers address directly at times.
The many costumes by Designer Tracy Olin convey a sense of time and place and include lovely dresses of the period, with dropped waists, accessorized with hats and gloves. It’s summer; Brady and Hornbeck wear white suits, Drummond’s is a less dramatic beige. And, since this is a small rural town, you’ll see more rustic clothing too.
Others in the cast include: Kiernan O’Connor (Melinda), Tadan Middleton (Howard), Ray Chute (Mr. Goodfellow), Bonnie Schwan (Mrs. Krebs), Sean Olin (Krebs), Charles Back (Dunlap/Elijah), Allen Morton(Sillers), Emma Jones (Photographer), Jordan Schemmel (Cooper), Braden Ward (Bannister), Regan Briggs(Betty), Toni Philips(Mrs. McClain), Maggie O’Connor (Mrs. Loomis), Charlotte Leslie(Mrs. Brady), Bob Miller (Mayor), Brian Currie (Tom Davenport), and Jordan Schemmel( Reuters Man).
Inherit the Wind has more cast members than even most musicals do and was a certainly a challenge to Director Lipp in view of the large area taken up by the courtroom. The many entrances and exits were seamless.
We won’t reveal the outcome of the trial, although many of you may have seen the very popular movie with Spencer Tracy and are aware of it. Theatre Jacksonville has an excellent study guide on their website at www.theatrejax.com, which is well worth the time to pursue and will certainly make your viewing of the play more meaningful. The debate about creationism versus evolution is still relevant. This play espouses the right to think and the power to use reason.
INHERIT THE WIND theatre review
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM