The Globe's 'Inherit The Wind'
1955 Play Still Resonates
MARK SAUER: You are listening to Midday Edition on KPBS. I am Mark Sauer filling in for Maureen Cavanaugh. We are talking about what is considered by many as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. Inherit the Wind is a fictional retelling of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in which a young Tennessee schoolteacher was charged with teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. It also mirrors the continuous conflict between different belief systems and our right to think for ourselves; a conflict is topical today as it was 80 years ago. The play Inherit the Wind written in 1955 remains surprisingly topical. My guests today joining in studio are Globe associate artist, Robert Foxworth plays Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind. Welcome, Bob. How are you today? ROBERT FOXWORTH: Fine, how are you Mark? MARK SAUER: Fine, thank you very much and Globe scenic designer Ralph Funicello. Ralph it's good to have you. RALPH FUNICELLO: Thank you, it's good to be here. MARK SAUER: So Bob why do you think Inherit the Wind has remained so current? ROBERT FOXWORTH: Well among other things courtroom dramas are always an attractive format. We had successful courtroom television shows and a lot of theater over the years. So I think that format in itself, that contentious back-and-forth really works well. Also I think the writers have written enough humor into it as well to make, relieve some of the weightiness of the argument that goes on with laughter. So for those reasons I think people keep coming back to it and besides the fact that it is unfortunately an ongoing idea, conflict of ideas. MARK SAUER: I'd like to ask our listeners to join the conversation. The number is 1-888-895-5727, sorry, 1888895KPBS. So Bob, you mentioned the writers. How did they help keep this debate vibrant? ROBERT FOXWORTH: Well as I said, I think the ideas themselves contained in the play are unfortunately ideas that are still in the debate in this country and perhaps in the rest of the world. You know, the freedom to think as one wishes to think as opposed to a kind of authoritarian oppression, this goes on. The difference between science and religion, the struggle between science and religion. These ideas themselves are enough to keep us interested. MARK SAUER: Let's listen to a scene of sums courtroom sparring. The scientists, defense attorney Henry Drummond had planned on using and been denied so he calls prosecuting attorney Matthew Brady to the stand. AUDIO FROM THEATER PERFORMANCE: HENRY DRUMMOND: Meet the profit from Nebraska. MATHEW BRADY: Please HENRY DRUMMOND: Is that the way of things? To be against Brady is to be against God MATHEW BRADY: No, then each man is a free agent. HENRY DRUMMOND: That one is nurtured kids to the County jail but if (inaudible) kids had enough influence and power and money to have rubbed it against the state MATHEW BRADY: Don't be ridiculous there is only one preacher in the world. HENRY DRUMMOND: The gospel according to Brady God speaks to Brady and Brady tells the world Brady Brady Brady Almighty. MATHEW BRADY: The Lord is my shepherd. HENRY DRUMMOND: But if a lesser human being a Case, or Darwin has the audacity to think that God might whisper to him that in Brady thought might still be holy. MARK SAUER: That was Robert Foxworth as Henry Drummond and Matthew Sparks as Brad Brady the film was made into a film with Spencer Tracy and (inaudible) ROBERT FOXWORTH: First of all the film was made a long time made in 1945 I think, maybe 1960 or something. I haven't seen it since then. And you know, the play has its own life and what Spencer Tracy and other cascade makers did it for that film was to make it their own. We are making it our own in our own time so it has its own life as time goes by. MARK SAUER: So Ralph, how do you tackle a work that may be ingrained in people's memories from the film. Did the film influence you? RALPH FUNICELLO: Not at all. When Adrian Noble, the director, first talk to me about doing this he, from the beginning I knew that Adrian, at least in his stage productions hates architectural scenery. And so I was curious as to how he wanted to approach this and he basically told me that he just thought it should be. Real artifacts that felt like. Artifacts. Is basically settled on tables and chairs at one point during windows, or doorways rather, not windows and then we dropped that and he said he wanted to make an environment out of those sort of elements of Americana part of the I think if one wanted to find deep meaning, which I don't think is necessary, but in the idea, is the idea that these ideas are ideas that were discussed over the kitchen table. But that's pushing it to try to say that we were trying to make a point. MARK SAUER: But lots of tables and they work well for you. RALPH FUNICELLO: Lots of kitchen tables, yes. MARK SAUER: The signs that protesters raise have similar slogans to the ones the protesters had at comi-con. How did you decide to would look like? RALPH FUNICELLO: I wasn't aware of protesters holding up signs at comi-con. They are mentioned in the script. Obviously there is one sign which just read your Bible which is a necessary part of the script, necessary thing. The others we, they, we just picked. I mean, I picked those phrases somewhat from the script and somewhat from just my own mind as to what signs might be there. And the look of them, they went to trade a transformation during the course of production, was to make them look handmade, certainly the signs that they carried, and that they were hand-painted on scraps of cardboard and things that people might have had in their homes or businesses. MARK SAUER: And you did the design for As You Like It also. And that's a company that opens up with a railroad car and loading up with the people and images that mix of think of Jews being loaded in World War II. Display starts on a heavy note, what was the thinking behind that? RALPH FUNICELLO: Again, ideas like that are not something that I would ever introduce without the directors idea. To begin with. Adrian had very specific ideas about As You Like It, how he wanted it to feel. It would take me the rest of the program to really go through it all. But suffice it to say that he felt that part of it is this disruption of society that was similar to the idea that people are being shipped off somewhere. They are émigrés. They are being sent to away. And he thought that a railroad car was an appropriate image because in his mind the way we were set it as play, the bucolic image was based on a lot of railway art in England in the 30s. Much is there was a lot of bucolic and fantasized railway art in this country. MARK SAUER: Now Inherit the Wind it is kept in its original period setting. To think that is debate about religion and science in that period makes it more forceful because it makes us go where, how this debate still continues? ROBERT FOXWORTH: I have a question. I'm sorry, I was distracted by the whoopee cushion on your tabletop. MARK SAUER: Well, that was our previous segment about methane gas in the large see Poff a fault, there. I'm sorry. Now you've distracted me. But, that never fails us a sight gag, does it? No we were talking about Inherit the Wind kept in his original period setting. And you think using its debate about religions and science makes it a bit more forceful because it makes us aware of how the debate continues, ties it up. ROBERT FOXWORTH: Rather than making a more forceful I think it tends to take the edge off of it so that a modern audience today and get the message about being assaulted, without being preached at. So it sort of puts it at a distance, but as the play progresses I think the audience begins to understand that this is not at a distance it's very current, it's right now. MARK SAUER: It's right in the newspapers every day. It's a play with great dialogue and exchanges or words. What was the experience of tackling the character Henry Drummond? ROBERT FOXWORTH: I did a lot of reading about Clarence Darrow. Henry Drummond is based on Clarence Darrow. I did a lot of reading about him and I became thoroughly fascinated with this guy. So I started there. I didn't actually start with the play. I started with my research on Clarence Darrow and began to sort of sketch in my own mind what I wanted to do with this guy and how I wanted him to be as lawyer and in the courtroom. His courtroom demeanor. He was a real actor, Clarence Darrow. So he would start with insinuating himself into the local community and trying to talk and behave as the locals might, so that he could bring the jury to him rather than himself go to the jury. He had a kind of easy laconic manner in this case because it takes place in the small town of Tennessee. So I wanted to sort of address that issue. Also, Darrow was a very tricky fellow. I mean he would do things like stick a wire in a cigar and in those days you could smoke in a courtroom and while the opposition was delivering their wrapup for example, their summation, he would be smoking a cigar with a wire in it so the ash would fall off so he would totally distract the jury from paying attention to the prosecution and he would be smoking and the ash just getting longer and longer. But he did a lot of little tricks like that he had a watch that make a lot of noise when he wound it and he would to that strategic and tactical moments in a trial. Wind his watch so that it made a lot of noise and was very distracting. He would also balance in his chair with the prosecution was delivering, was asking questions of a particularly damaging witness he would balance in his chair, so the jury would be looking at him, when is he going to fall over. MARK SAUER: Do not pay attention to the prosecution ROBERT FOXWORTH: Not paying attention to the prosecution so he has a lot of tricks like that I found stuff like that really fascinating so I busy myself during the early parts of the courtroom scenes doing other things rather than what's going on in the courtroom, and it is deceptive. It throws off both the audience as our audience and the audience at the play. MARK SAUER: Right, did you learn of that, that paid off from your resurgent doing that, that was not something you'd see in the original play? ROBERT FOXWORTH: No, it is just stuff that I gleaned from reading about him. But the fact is that Clarence Darrow was a much much more interesting care character than this play has room for because it's not what this play was about. Some Like to do a play about Clarence Darrow. MARK SAUER: That would be fascinating. There are some really good biographies there was one book I read called arc of Justice about story and the famous trial he did in Detroit again it was a racial issue fascinating book but there's quite a bit on clear and sterile. ROBERT FOXWORTH: There's quite a bit. I read about three books on demand as well as doing some of the research. MARK SAUER: You've been working with the Globe for many years. Do you have a favorite performance? ROBERT FOXWORTH: This is very obscure. But it goes back some years ago I was doing a play in what was that the cash is Carter theater which is now the white, a play by Richard Dresser called Below the Belt. A really bizarre dark comedy about the workplace. And I had a great deal of fun doing it and I played a totally crazy guy. He was also the time around which I met my wife here in San Diego, so MARK SAUER: Magical time. ROBERT FOXWORTH: It has a really special place in my heart. MARK SAUER: Ralph, of these to replace it Richard III inherit the wind and As You Like It which of the three provide the greatest satisfaction for you? RALPH FUNICELLO: I couldn't even specify because I approach them I design them kind of all at the same time because, to them in repertory and to design scenery that is going to work in repertory I'm kind of designing all of that once. And so I find them also design. What I find satisfying about the whole experience was that they were all different. So I didn't feel I was repeating myself from one to the next. ROBERT FOXWORTH: May I just add to that. Got to say I'm such an admirer of Ralph's work because it is really hard to design for a repertory of replays and make each one an exciting and different and edgy piece of work. And it's really a pleasure to work at Ralph's atmospheres, that he creates. As an actor it is really it is the gift that he gives to us in a way is a place where we can do this and you know, the audience's response to his designs, two is just wonderful. You can feel it. MARK SAUER: Well I'll tell you as a long-time season-ticket holder and seeing many plays at the club it's always exciting it's almost like when you go to the baseball diamond for the first time and you come in and see the great expanse of green you sit down and there's that soft light long before the production begins and it's wonderful to see how are they going to do this and depending on which theater you are in of course ROBERT FOXWORTH: The thing too with the festival stage when you come into the theater you see the entire stage and what is a magical thing that Ralph is able to pull off is that you really don't see it until it really begins and things begin to emerge. The use of the various things begin to go up and billow in the wind and all of this. It's really exciting. MARK SAUER: Well thanks so much for this lively discussion, Robert Foxworth and Ralph Funicello. Thank you both very much for being with us today. ROBERT FOXWORTH: Thank you, Mark. RALPh FUNICELLO: Thank you. MARK SAUER: The Globe's Inherit the Wind and Richard III run late this month through early September in Balboa Park. You've been listening to Midday Edition on KPBS. Stay tuned to KPBS for news and information throughout the day. I am Mark Sauer and have a good afternoon.
The Old Globe Theatre's production of the 1955 play "Inherit the Wind" (running through Sept. 25 at the Lowell Davies Festival Stage in Balboa Park) hasn't dated as much as you might think ... or hope.
"Inherit The Wind" is a fictional retelling of the 1925 "Scopes Monkey Trial," in which a young Tennessee school teacher was charged with teaching Darwin's Theory of Evolution. The play not only serves up a debate about creationism and evolution, but also explores the ongoing conflict between different belief systems and our right to think for ourselves, a conflict as topical today as it was 80 years ago.
Some films and plays that tackle social issues -- like "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" (interracial marriage) and "Gentlemen's Agreement" (anti-semitism) -- come across as dated today, either because we perceive a significant change in attitudes or because the manner in which the social issues were tackled seem self conscious. But "Inherit the Wind," written as a play in 1955 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, remains surprisingly topical. The title is taken from the Bible: "Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind ..."
Here is a scene from the 1960 film starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond and Frederic March as Matthew Brady.
In the new Old Globe Theatre production directed by Adrian Noble, Robert Foxworth plays Drummond and Adrian Sparks plays Brady. Check out the highlights from the play and see how scenic designer Ralph Funicello uses tables to create everything in the play from the courtroom to city streets.
Funicello's scenic design is also on display in "Richard III" and "As You Like It." Watch the video highlights from the Old Globe.
You can also check out an interview with the director and star of the Globe's "Richard III."
For more information about court cases involving the teaching of evolution after the Scopes trial, here are Ten Court Cases (including one as recent as 2005) and here is a survey considering First Amendment Rights raised by the cases.