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Review: 'Inherit the Wind'

August 1, 2012 4:05 p.m.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks at the Globe's new production of "Inherit the Wind."

Related Story: Review: 'Inherit The Wind'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CLIP Remember the wisdom of Solomon in the Book of Proverbs, He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.

Playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee wrote "Inherit the Wind" in 1955. They used the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial that dealt with teaching evolution in the schools as their real life inspiration.

CLIP This is Harry Y. Esterbrook speaking from the courthouse in Hillsboro where the jury has just returned to the courtroom to render its verdict in the famous Hillsboro monkey trial case...

But even back in the 50s, they sensed the timelessness of their themes. They defined the setting "not too long ago" but also noted “It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow.”

CLIP I had the book in my hand, Hunter City Biology, I opened it up and I read to my sophomore science class chapter 17, Darwin's Origin of Species.

The Globe production directed by Adrian Noble is done in a period style. So as audiences enter the outdoor Festival stage they do feel like they're being taken back in time. Scenic designer Ralph Funicello says that Noble did not want a completely realistic set so tables -- sometimes many stacked on top of each other -- are used to build the courtroom.

RALPH FUNICELLO: They are American kitchen tables, that's the design of them. And I think in his mind he said, a kitchen table is the place where these issues get discussed.

Keeping the play in a period setting helps put some distance between the audience and the hot button issues says actor Robert Foxworth.

ROBERT FOXWORTH: So that a modern audience can get the message without being assaulted, without being preached at. So it sort of puts it at a distance but as the play progresses I think the audiences begin to understand that this is not at a distance, this is very current.

That's why the play has endured as an American classic. It uses the popular format of a courtroom drama, ups the ante with two larger than life characters facing off, tempers the message with humor, and then asks the audience to contemplate serious questions. At the center of the story is Bertram Cates, a young teacher arrested for teaching Darwin to his science classes. He becomes the center of a controversial trial that pits religious fundamentalism against the freedom of individual thought.

CLIP Is that the way of things? God tells Brady what is good, to be against Brady is to be against God?

No each man is a free agent.

Then what is Bertram Cates doing in a Hillsboro jail?

Foxworth plays Henry Drummond, a character based on real life defense lawyer Clarence Darrow. Foxworth read about the real Darrow so that he could sketch out in his mind what kind of lawyer he would be in court.

CLIP What if a lesser human being, a Mr. Cates or a Darwin, had the audacity to think that God might whisper to him, that an un-Brady thought might still be holy.

His research suggested that Darrow was quite the actor, insinuating himself into communities to pick up their way of speaking or winding a noisy watch to distract jurors from testimony.

ROBERT FOXWORTH: He would also balance his chair when the prosecution was asking questions of a particularly damaging witness and he would balance in his chair so the jury would be looking at him, when is he going to fall over.

Foxworth makes his Drummond a lawyer capable of savvy courtroom antics but also one passionate about certain inalienable rights.

CLIP I just want to prevent the clock stoppers from dumping medieval nonsense into the United States constitution.

ROBERT FOXWORTH: I think it's unfortunate that it's still relevant today.

Again actor Robert Foxworth.

ROBERT FOXWORTH: That we're having this debate still, the battle between science and religion, and the battle between the freedom to think and a kind of authoritarian religiosity, I guess it's a universal thing and it will probably always go on.

The play unintentionally addresses that with the signs the townspeople display on stage. Slogans, like "Read Your Bible," could also be seen on signs held by protesters outside Comic-Con last month. Funicello says he designed the signs based on descriptions in the play and photos of signs at the real Scopes trial.

RALPH FUNICELLO: It is sad, I suppose you could say, that those same signs, the same slogans, are still being held up. And that people still feel a need to protest in this way.

But so long as this debate continues, "Inherit the Wind" will remain a vibrant text that theater companies like the Globe will resurrect and perform in order to make audiences think.

CLIP Judge has just taken the bench and we'll know in just a few minutes if Bertram Cates will be found guilty or innocent...

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.