Theater Review: INHERIT THE WIND (Pasadena Playhouse)

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by Michael M. Landman-Karny on November 6, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles


Inherit the Wind, a theatrical warhorse authored in 1955 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, emerges as an eloquent narrative, artfully crafted around the historical backdrop of the infamous 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial.” This legal saga unfolded when John Scopes, a daring Tennessee educator, found himself indicted for transgressing state statutes by imparting the doctrines of Charles Darwin to impressionable young minds. The play has endured through the ages, perpetually captivating audiences and culminating in cinematic adaptations in 1960, as well as televised iterations in 1965, 1988, and 1999. In an era where 46% of Americans, including our Speaker of The House, hold to Creationism, and the considerable influence of the anti-science faction within the GOP remains palpable, this production’s staunch advocacy for individual intellectual autonomy resounds with contemporaneous relevance.

Rene Rivera, Brian Calì, Alfred Molina, Thomas Hobson, John Douglas Thompson,
David Aaron Baker, Abubakr Ali, and Cast;
John Douglas Thompson, Alfred Molina, and Cast

Michael Michetti’s inspired production, which opened last night at the Pasadena Playhouse, chooses to set the play in today’s times with the racially diverse cast in Sara Ryung Clement‘s modern costumes, with many on stage dressed casually in T-Shirts with some sporting personal tattoos and manbuns. Despite not changing a word of the script, the issues, prejudices, and religious intolerance all ring true in 2023. Brad Enlow’s bare bones but effective scenic design uses office chairs and tables in front of a wall with damages and cracks. The line between the “us” of now and the “them” of then is blurred by placing audience members in risers on right of the stage as well in a jury box just below the stage.

John Douglas Thompson and Cast;
Thomas Hobson, Michael Kostroff, John Douglas Thompson, Marlene Forte,
Pam Trotter, Gabriella Pizzigoni, David Aaron Baker, and Rachel Hilson

Set within the fictional, devout enclave of Hillsborough, as wryly depicted by the acerbic Baltimore journalist E.K. Hornbeck, superbly rendered by Chris Perfetti (channeling the catty Addison DeWitt from All About Eve,) the citizens exult in the trial’s spectacle, fervently engage in prayer, and harmonize in a capella renditions of devotional hymns, arranged by Darryl Archibald.

Chris Perfetti

Inherit the Wind has been perennially rejuvenated as a vehicle for two seasoned actors, and in this incarnation, the spotlight shines upon the remarkable talents of Alfred Molina and John Douglas Thompson. Molina, a luminary in film, television, and stage, impeccably embodies the role of the astute Chicagoan trial lawyer, Henry Drummond, a character modeled after the venerable Clarence Darrow. Drummond’s unwavering commitment to the defense of not just Scopes, but civilization itself, unfolds with magnetic intellectual force. Thompson, a distinguished stage actor, ingeniously essays the part of the prosecuting attorney, Matthew Harrison Brady, a thinly veiled incarnation of the thrice-presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. In his portrayal of Brady, Thompson conjures the essence of a contemporary black Republican politician, conjuring echoes of Tim Scott and Ben Carson, replete with an affable demeanor, unshakable religious devotion, a rotund middle, and a folksy intonation.

John Douglas Thompson and Alfred Molina

Initially, the audience witnesses Drummond and Brady relishing the prospect of a courtroom showdown, a duel of equal wits reminiscent of a 1925 version of Siskel and Ebert. Yet, as the narrative unfolds, Brady’s character is unveiled as a petulant, publicity-seeking figure, unhesitant to employ the cheapest rhetorical ploys for approbation. Through audacious mispronunciations, such as imbuing “evil” into “evolution,” he lays bare the inanity of his fundamentalist beliefs. While Drummond cross-examines Brady on his bible expertise, he exposes the ludicrous incoherence of this fundamentalist’s beliefs. Informed that Brady thinks the world was created on 23 October 4004 BC at 9am, Molina, with great comic timing, stops for a second before bursting with “Would that be Eastern Standard Time?”

 Rachel Hilson;
Alfred Molina, Abubakr Ali, and Cast

Rachel Hilson, in a captivating portrayal, conveys the inner turmoil of Rachel, a fellow teacher and Cates’ girlfriend, the daughter of the antagonistic Rev. Brown. Abubakr Ali, in the underwritten role of Bertram Cates, the schoolteacher based on John Scopes, delivers a nuanced depiction of a gentle educator who is no hero but a man committed to independent thinking. The ensemble benefits from the luxury casting in small roles of veteran character actor Michael Kostoroff, who embodies the intellectually challenged mayor, and Broadway veteran David Aaron Baker, cast as the firebrand and intolerant Reverend Jeremiah Brown. The entire ensemble, comprised of 17 talented individuals assuming multiple roles, uniformly delivers performances of unwavering authenticity.

Alfred Molina and Cast

The production, harmonized with the superb casting, admirably aligns itself with the well-constructed script by Lawrence and Lee, judiciously distilled from its original three-act format, unfailingly ensnaring the audience from commencement to denouement. Omar Madkour‘s lighting orchestrates an evocative ambiance that heightens the dramatic tension in pivotal scenes, while Jeff Gardner‘s sound design ensures that every word resonates with crystalline clarity.

photos by Jeff Lorch

Inherit the Wind
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena
ends on November 26, 2023 EXTENDED thru December 3, 2023
for tickets (starting at $35-$117), call 626.356.7529 or visit Pasadena Playhouse

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