Segal’s “Inherit the wind” succeeds

By Alidor Aucoin on November 4, 2009

Inherit the Wind. Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee’s dramatization of the 1925 Scopes monkey trial, is a timely old chestnut of a play, especially now that the fossil skeleton of Ardi, a 4-foot tall female primate who died 4.4-million years ago, is making headlines. 

There are those who argue that Ardi’s discovery proves Darwin’s theory of evolution was wrong, and that humans did not evolve from ancestors that resemble chimpanzees. The doctrines of creationism, and its less explicity religious cousin, intelligent design, both guided by faith in the Old and New Testamants, continue to be counter narratives to the science of evolution. 

Inherit the Wind isn’t as much about the debate between evolution and religion as it about the right of individuals to think for themselves, consider all the evidence, then draw their own conclusions.

The Segal Centre’s fluid production that runs until Nov. 8 affords theatergoers the pleasure of watching veteran actor Sean McCann delight in making mincemeat out of ignorance.  McCann is cast as Henry Drummond, a libertarian lawyer, (based on Clarence Darrow) who defends a small town biology teacher, Bertram Cates (Karl Graboshas), who has been charged by the state with the crime of teaching Charles Darwin. 

Cates is being prosecuted by Matthew Harrison Brady, (David Francis), a right wing blowhard, -  the Rush Limbaugh of his day. Brady is a rabble-rouser, certain in his fundamentalist beliefs, including his conviction that the world was created at precisely 9 a.m. on October 23, 4004 BC. He’s the kind of guy who would tell you that Noah had dinosaurs onto his ark along with the rest of creation.  

The first act is largely exposition and Greg Kramer’s spirited, if sometimes uneven staging, introduces us to a huge God-cheering, God fearing Bible belt community, exposing its small town mentality.  At one point, during a revival meeting, there are at least two dozen hymn singing actors on stage. 

Eli Bunton’s set design adds to the claustrophobia – no easy task on the Segal’s sprawling stage. One questions, however, the casting decision to throw a jarring inter-racial romance into the mix. No rural Tennessee schoolteacher in the 1920s would have been openly able to have a black girlfriend, especially not one like Rachel Brown, (Tamara Brown) the agitated daughter of the local Bible thumping preacher. As Rachel’s father, the Rev. Jeremiah Brown, (Tyrone Benskin) doesn’t quite have the fire-and brimstone in his belly that one expects. 

The stilted second act, with its courtroom scene, is tailor made for old stage pros like McCann and Francis. Although it pits Drummond against Brady, the act weighs heavily in McCann’s favour. Other teams who have tackled the exchange include Chris Plummer and Brian Dennehy, George C. Scott and Charles Durning, Spencer Tracey and Fredrick March, and most recently, Kevin Spacey and David Troughton. 

In the Segal’s production, McCann brings all the authority of a seasoned veteran to the part. There are no real fireworks here, just the solid, weary resignation of a man who relies on common sense to get him through life. Francis is all bombast, and is perhaps a little too one-dimensional to be sympathetic as the barnstorming Brady who denounces the dangers of Evil-loution.  To be fair, it’s a tough role; the guy who plays Drummond has the house in his corner. 

Karl Graboshas nicely captures the part of the principled teacher; Tamara Brown is affecting as his love interest.  Marcel Jeannin is good as E.K. Horbeck, the self-important, know-it all newspaper reporter covering the trial, Bill Corday makes a strong impression as the illiterate juror, Elijah, as does Adam Driscoll, as young Howard Blair, a student called to testify against his teacher. 

The three little monkeys who dart around the stage add a nice touch, too. 


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