The Cardinal Stage Company’s production of Inherit the Wind is a finely crafted production. With states and school boards across the country considering adding “intelligent design” to their science curriculums, it’s a timely play. Chicago-based actors Ernest Perry, Jr. and Danny Goldring are a couple of old lions in their roles based on William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow in the famous Scopes trial that pitted evolutionary theory against fundamental Christianity in 1925.
The production directed by Cardinal’s founder Randy White boasts a strong nicely disciplined cast. Featured were Brian Bradshaw playing the part based on the defendant John T. Scopes, Mike Price in the role based on the acerbic journalist H. L. Mencken, Gerry Pauwels as the decidedly biased trial judge, Ed Mobley as the diffident bailiff, Ken Farrell as the fiery Reverend Jeremiah Brown, Talya Hernandez-Ritter as his hesitantly rebellious daughter, Gladys DeVane as a frequently outspoken “amener,” and Howard Brown as one of Scopes’ students. There are twenty-seven actors, any one of whom you may have seen starring in area shows.
Inherit the Wind does a lovely job of capturing the feel of the small town and its excitement about the arrival of the major figures who joined the prosecution and the defense. Part of the excitement is expressed in religious fervor and it’s a pleasure to hear four or five favorite hymns sung really well. Throughout, there’s a good deal of comedy and even the defense’s frustration at the biased selection of the jury has its richly comic moments.
Although the trial itself could be a bit static, the direction has plenty of good logical movement. Danny Goldring, as the Darrow figure at first tries to introduce expert testimony as to the truth of evolutionary theory, but it’s all denied. He then tries to cite from Darwin’s writings to harmonize some of it with the Bible, but again he’s stonewalled by the judge. Somewhat to his own chagrin, he’s forced to make the defense’s literalism look silly.
In the role based on Bryan, Earnest Perry, Jr. made the most of his bombastically certain and then frustratedly defensive comments. It’s high drama and a fine display of the power of the two actors, but I did wish that the play actually offered a bit more meat. It could have expanded a bit more with a critique of literalism and even offered a real defense of some of the facts of evolution. The retreat to simply a defense of the right to think sounds lofty, but it doesn’t have any real matter.
So digging a bit deeper in either of those two areas is left to the more than 700 area students who’ll be seeing the show, the teachers who’ve come for workshops and the IU students who’ll be participating in Themester 2009 “Evolution, Diversity and Change.”
Finally, here’s a bit of irony about censorship and a footnote linking the story to Indiana University. When the movie was premiered in 1960, the play’s authors Lawrence and Lee were credited along with a Nathan Douglas. There is no Nathan Douglas; it was a pseudonym for a blacklisted writer. And biologist, ACLU leader, and later IU President David Starr Jordan helped raise the money for the defense fund and later helped Scopes get a geology degree at the University of Chicago.
The Cardinal Stage Company’s production of Inherit the Wind continues through September 20.