Powerful moments in open-air 'Inherit the Wind'
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's oft-produced 1955 courtroom drama, based on the famous Scopes "monkey trial" of 1925, was intended — like Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" — to use earlier events in American history as a frame for examining the 1950s "Red Scare" hysteria. But when polls show a clear majority of Americans reject Darwin and with battles still raging over "intelligent design" in science curricula, the ideological battle in "Inherit the Wind" is no longer a metaphor. It's a by-the-book portrait of our contemporary culture wars, sans bloggers and air conditioning.
Director Steve Pickering's staging for Oak Park Festival Theatre in the company's traditional Austin Gardens setting loses the sense of confinement and stifling heat in the Hillsboro courthouse — the stand-in for the town of Dayton, where John Scopes was convicted of violating Tennessee's law against teaching evolution. Some of the taunts become less taut when one has to compete with overhead air traffic. (Though it makes the musings of Henry Drummond about how "you may conquer the air, but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline" that much more apropos.)
But Pickering brings the action into the audience during the trial scenes by having townspeople sit next to us, fanning themselves and gasping as Jack Hickey's Drummond (based on renegade atheist defense attorney Clarence Darrow) clashes with Aaron Christensen's populist Christian orator, Matthew Harrison Brady (based on William Jennings Bryan). He also cunningly refocuses attention on the women on the perimeters of the story, most notably Rachel Brown (Emily Williams), Mrs. Brady (Susan Fey) and E.K. Hornbeck (Kimberly Logan).Continue reading at www.chicagotribune.com