Inherit The Wind
|May 16, 2011 — by Holly Bartges
There’s one more week left, unfortunately, simply because it deserves a much longer run.
Ian Gerber directs one of the most enchanting productions of Inherit The Wind written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee at the Theater Company of Lafayette to grace any stage anywhere.
Before even parking the car at the Mary Miller Theater, one is immediately transported to Hillsboro, Tennessee 1925. The town is ecstatic in the anticipation of Matthew Harrison Brady arriving to prosecute Bertram Cates, the insolent school teacher who had the gaul to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution to his 8th grade science students in this very close-knit Christian community who strongly believes it is God, and God alone who created the Heavens and Earth. Period.
A member of the community staunchly parades in the street carrying a sign. One side reads: “Are you a Man?” The other side reads: “Are You a Monkey?” A woman follows him with another sign that simply reads, “Darwin is Wrong?”
Inside, celebration reigns. Hotdogs and Moon Pies are being hawked, along with popcorn and lemonade. (They only ask for donations.) This extraordinary cast of characters, decked out in 1925 clothes interacts with the audience. Be ready to take sides. They want to know what side of the fence one sits. One interviewer directly asks: “Are you for or against Darwin?” Taking notes all the while. The entire cast mingles with the audience as though everyone is a part of this wondrous community brought together by such a heretical idea than man descended from a lower form of animal life.
Cates, delightfully played by Justin Porter nervously waits in his jail cell. Rachel Brown, his girlfriend, visits him with the help of Meeker, the guard. Rachel is grandly played by Alexandria St. John. Rachel is torn. She so wants Bertram to recant, and just say he is wrong. She carries a double problem. She’s the daughter of Rev. Brown (Don Grede), a strong leader in the community, a strong believer that it is God and God alone who created the world, and he will fight to the death over his beliefs. Grede carries with him the staunch, pious attitude necessary to carry the community. No wonder Rachel is nervous about visiting Bertram in jail. What if someone sees her? What is someone tells her father? What if the one she so dearly loves won’t change his mind?
Meeker is played by Carol Long. Meeker prides herself on her job, and at the same time shows empathy toward Rachel, and a gentle firmness toward Bertram.
Any moment, Brady is about to arrive by train. Richard Beall takes on the role with the self-assured attitude of the “popular speaker from the Chautauqua circuit and the nation’s most dominant force in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party”. He comes to assist the Circuit District Attorney Tom Davenport. Don Thumim wears the confident cloak of Davenport. With Brady at his side, how could he possibly loose the prosecution?
No one yet knows who will arrive to defend Cates.
Then the word comes. It will be none other than Henry Drummond, a first rate liberal lawyer from Chicago, and an orator par excellence, a one-time friend of Brady’s. He even wants to know what happened to their relationship.
Matt Ellison takes on the heavy role of Drummond. I have to admit I had some fleeting doubt as to whether Ellison was up to the challenge. Ah, the beauty of illusive first impressions. There is no doubt, Brady and the townspeople felt the same way upon meeting Drummond. The prosecution was in the bag. How could this relatively humble human being possibly convince anyone otherwise? Ellison proved himself more than ready for the challenge.
Judge Virginia Sparks found herself in the midst of this highly controversial trial. Yes, Sparks was the first sitting female judge in the history of Tennessee. Played by Brandy M. McGreer, she carries confidently the judicial role with pride and ease.
Townspeople are brought in to testify, of course all speaking in favor of God’s Word being the ultimate. All of the people Drummond wishes to bring onto the stand, Judge Sparks refuses to allow. It looks grim for Cates, and for Drummond until he asks for Brady to take the stand. The brilliance of Ellison’s portrayal comes to life as he nails Brady to the wall.
During Intermission, the townspeople continue to mingle with the audience, E.K. Hornbeck, a reporter, combs the audience for interviews. Played by Chris Newby, he maintains a highly professional journalistic attitude toward the trial, toward getting the facts, and getting everyone’s opinions. During the trial, he is delightful to watch. He’s got a big story and he knows it.
The large cast comprised of 28 actors takes on the roles for some 33 characters. Gerber has done an amazing job of bringing out spirit of the times. Even those who are just beginning their acting transformations feed into the spirit of that horrific time.
Although, even today in some arenas the fight continues.
The program consists of a copy of the Hillsboro Herald with Gerber as editor-In-chief. It features articles on Brady coming to Hillsboro, with real life photos of Brady, Cates, Rev. Brown, and Judge Sparks. There’s an article about the local baseball team getting a new mascot. Rev. Brown went out of his way to encourage his congregants to boycott the games citing the use of the irreverent term “Hellhounds”. The cast is listed under Classified Advertisement as Actors Seeking Work.
Mary Secor and Susan Serreze designed the costumes with an appropriate and tasteful eye for 1925 Tennessee. Sarah Spencer designed the set that works beautifully for the small space.
TCL’s production is more than a theatrical experience. It’s a time machine that brings to life the thoughts and deep feelings of the people of 1925 Hlllsboro, Tennessee. Throughout the production it is great fun to watch the expressions of the different members of the community. The actors have met the spirit and joined in. Lolly Grede as Mary Brown, the Reverend’s good wife, stands proudly by her husband. Stephen Bliley wears the Mayor’s badge with prideful dignity. Matt Barham can’t read or write as Elijah, but he believes everything Rev. Brown tells him.
The only downside of this production is its four-week run. Inherit The Wind is a masterful production for this small theatre. Gerber is a masterful director who has the ability to reach inside even the novice actor and bring forth characterizations not even the actor knows is there. It’s worth the trip to Lafayette.
Inherit the Wind
©2011 Colorado BackStage