BY ALEX GRUBER
Evergreen Theatre produces a perennial favorite
The Evergreen Theatre company presented a skillful interpretation of “Inherit the Wind” Feb. 13-15 and 19-21 in the Webb Theatre at St. Norbert College.
Written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (the playwright, not the Civil War general) in 1955, “Inherit the Wind” has as its base the sensational Scopes trial of 1925, in which a substitute teacher was arrested and put on trial for teaching evolution at a school in Kentucky, at a time when state law forbade any such instruction. The “Monkey Trial” was blown out of proportion, with reporters from across the country and world filling the town to capitalize on the story.
Lawrence and Lee wrote “Inherit the Wind” as a fictionalized account of the Scopes trial. Its main purpose was actually to criticize the attempt to control thought and crush dissent during the McCarthy trials of the 1950s. As Curt Christnot, director of Evergreen Theatre’s production of the show, stated, “In our society, conformity is rampant. This show helps us to see the power of the individual.”
Evergreen Theatre showed its usual dedication to authenticity in its set and costume designs for “Inherit the Wind.” A well-built church stood between a rickety general store and cafe at the back of the stage, serving as a constant reminder of the religious values many felt were at stake during the trial. Plain wooden chairs, tables and benches covered much of the remainder of the stage to show the courtroom of Hillsboro, Kentucky. The props were used throughout the show for general gatherings, too, minimizing the time and number of scene changes. A projected image of a slow spiral evoked the lazy rotation of an electric fan, combining with the yellow lighting to show the stuffy, tense atmosphere of the courtroom scenes.
Christnot directed a talented cast in an engaging production of “Inherit the Wind.” Mike Horowitz provided the ample talent needed for the gregarious Matthew Harrison Brady, the prosecuting attorney of the story. Eric Westphal gave an equally strong performance as witty defense attorney Henry Drummond. He and Horowitz played well off each other to give stunning lead performances. Daniel Beckwith portrayed Bertram Cates, the teacher on trial, with heart and talent, as did Laura Duescher, who played Rachel Brown, the reverend’s daughter and Cates’ love interest. Finally, David Wilson displayed the cynicism and biting eloquence of newspaper journalist E.K. Hornbeck. These actors and their character portrayals added much to the show’s humor and drama.
Along with the leads, the supporting cast of “Inherit the Wind” showed much talent in their roles. Most of the residents of Hillsboro managed a slight rural twang in their speech, though a few had very noticeable Yankee accents. All of the cast displayed great enthusiasm and characterization when watching the trial and in holding prayer sessions. Lead and supporting characters experienced a few line overlaps and flubs but for the most part moved smoothly past them.
One of the main worries I had in the first few scenes was that the actors would overemphasize the comedy of “Inherit the Wind” at the expense of its drama. More tense moments, like Cates’ run to Rachel before returning to his jail cell, seemed forced. However, the cast removed that fear and showed their skill for more serious matter in the last scene of Act One. Afterward, the actors struck a fine balance between drama and comedy, resulting in an absorbing production of the perennial favorite “Inherit the Wind” from Evergreen Theatre.