BWW Review: Theatre Artists Studio Presents INHERIT THE WIND
To see INHERIT THE WIND, in its current iteration at Theatre Artists Studio, is to revisit the endless battle between open-minded reason and the intolerance of blind faith. It is, as well, a golden opportunity to witness two bears of the stage ~ Michael Fleck and Tom Koelbel ~ have at each other in their portrayals of the goliaths that put the trial of the century on the map.
Inspired by the Scopes "Monkey" Trial of 1925, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's dramatization substitutes small town Hillsboro for Dayton, Tennessee and poses Bertram Cates (Christian Boden) as John T. Scopes, the substitute high school teacher who violated the state's Butler Act, the legislation that criminalized the teaching of evolution.
An encounter of such magnitude, where nothing less than the right to think freely was on trial, required a match between two goliaths. For the prosecution ~ William Jennings Bryan, fiery fundamentalist, impassioned orator, three-time Presidential candidate. For the defense ~ Clarence Darrow, attorney for the damned, civil libertarian, and economic reformer.
In this staging of the controversial face-off between Darwinism (as represented by Fleck's Henry Drummond) and creationism (by Koelbel's Matthew Harrison Brady), director Judy Rollings has given her leads the latitude to define their characters in a way that magnifies the contrasts and the tensions between two former allies, now courtroom combatants.
Fleck plays the generally affable but sardonic and shrewd lawyer like a raging bull, at times mocking the court proceedings and at times storming into contemptuous ire at the public charade of virtue. Fleck's performance is as high octane and riveting as it gets.
Koelbel delivers the opposite effect ~ portraying Brady as a man now past his prime, still celebrated by the Bible Belt masses, and holding fast to his faith and the certainty of his beliefs. The once lionized Brady seems tamer and more subdued but no less self-righteous, making his ultimate fall from grace all the more poignant.
The first act is appropriately designed to set context and introduce central characters and townspeople ~ including Bert's girlfriend, Rachel (Elizabeth Broeder), torn between her affection for Bert and her loyalty to her father, the town's bible-thumping Reverend Brown (Al Benneian); the politically sensitive presiding judge (Charles Sowder); Brady's adoring and protective wife (Judy Lebeau); Meeker (Bill Mosley), the affable clerk of the court; and the town's solicitous mayor (George Cohen).
However, it is the trial in the second act, specifically Drummond's tenacious examination of Brady, that is the play's centerpiece. It is the moment for which we patiently wait and for which we are compensated royally. (What shall we make of the story of Jonah and the whale...or the age of a rock...or the difference between a man and a sponge!) Fleck and Koelbel give us what we want ~ palpable, provocative, and pulsating high drama.
Every courtroom drama needs reportage, and, in INHERIT THE WIND, that function is fulfilled by E.K. Hornbeck, the Baltimore Herald's muckraking reporter, come to Hillsboro to witness the spectacle. Walt Pedano fills the role perfectly as the skeptical and wisecracking observer of truth and justice the middle-American way.
The fact that the issues of the case have not yet been fully resolved in America's political landscape makes this production all the more compelling and timely.
INHERIT THE WIND runs through December 9th at The Studio in Scottsdale, AZ.
Photo credit to Mark Gluckman
L to R: Michael Fleck and Tom Koelbel
Theatre Artists Studio ~ https://www.thestudiophx.org ~ 602-765-0120 ~ 12406 N. Paradise Village Pkwy East, Scottsdale, AZ