Creation vs. Evolution: Re-staging the battle
If you’ve read these columns, you’ll recognize a familiar pattern. Every few years, the call of the live stage is too strong to ignore. A show comes along that peaks an interest, and the juices start flowing.
More on the specific show a little later.
Here’s how the process works. A local theater group, and there a surprising number of them, advertises an audition. Typically, the audition process involves cold readings from a script of the show. A director will bring a group of actors into the studio, and ask each to read a different part.
Normally, these people are reading these lines for the first time, so this is more of an exercise in how they appear, as opposed to a definitive representation of how they would perform a certain role.
The process is a little different for a musical than a straight drama. In the case of a musical, actors will be asked to come prepared to perform a song accompanied by piano. If the show involves dancing, and most musicals do, actors will also be told to wear clothes that allow “movement”.
A director has to be a visionary, able to “see” a stage transform into a specific location and to envision actors convincingly filling roles at some point in the future.
So the new adventure started with an email invitation from the Fredericktowne Players theater company. The Players, commonly known as FtP, are one of Frederick’s longest running and successful amateur theater groups.
FtP’s 2012 season leads off with a classic American theatrical drama, Inherit The Wind. Written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (not the general), the play tells the story of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, but substitutes fictional characters for the well-known participants in this huge historical moment.
John Scopes, the school teacher who decided to risk arrest to teach a Tennessee public school class using Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, becomes Bertram Cates in the show. Three-time presidential candidate – and guest prosecutor – William Jennings Bryan morphs into Matthew Harrison Brady, and celebrated legal scholar Clarence Darrow becomes Henry Drummond in the script.
The classic legal battles between Brady and Drummond form the central scenes of the production, as was the case during the actual trial. The play is about much more than a courtroom confrontation, though.
This is as much a statement about community, family and faith as it is about the law. The fictional town of Hillsboro is as much on trial as is the teaching of the evolution theory. Lee and Lawrence have both described the creation of the play as a reflection on the dangers of narrow-mindedness and the demonization of differences.
Both of the writers were outraged at the conduct of Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy and the anti-communist scare of the 1950’s. That outrage translates in the production to the town preacher who fires up the crowd in his passionate - but misguided – rant against the teacher.
The preacher plays a pivotal role, establishing the moral boundaries for the whole town and rallying the people to his cause. He pays a terrible price for his stridency, and the title of the production, a snippet from Solomon in the Book of Proverbs, is offered as reminder to the preacher of the cost of neglecting family in his fight over faith.
Bert Cates, the school teacher at the center of drama, comes across as a genuinely decent guy, clearly confused as to why a simple expression of intellectual curiosity has resulted in so much hatred and fear.
The character of Matthew Harrison Brady plays like a classic Greek tragedy. He enters the town as a triumphant hero, a national celebrity riding a wave of popular and religious fervor seeking to punish Cates for violating the law and community standards. Suffice to say that he leaves in much less glorious fashion.
The Darrow/Drummond character, on the other hand, arrives with no fanfare and seemingly dismal prospects for success in a town fueled by fundamental religion and a suspicion of all things worldly.
Through the faculties of a quick mind, a deep understanding of the law and a passionate commitment for the fair treatment of all people, the celebrated legal scholar turns the courtroom into a playground; using the law and faith to demonstrate the power of thought and the importance of independent judgment.
It would be easy to play the Bryan/Brady character as a classic bad guy, a demagogue who lacks the intellect to see the traps being laid for him by the defense attorney. In this production, Director Jack Wibbe sees it a little differently, so if you’ve seen Inherit The Wind before, you may be surprised by FtP’s production.
The cast is filled with talented actors and actresses, all of whom are working hard to learn character, lines and where they need to be on stage. Given FtP’s history for high-quality community theater, this production should provide Fredericktonians a great night of entertainment for an affordable price.
Inherit The Wind will be presented at the Frederick Community College’s Kussmaul Theater, September 30, October 1, 7, 8, and 9, 2011. For production or ticket information, visit www.fredericktowneplayers.org.