Friday, August 7, 2009

Play of the Week: Inherit the Wind

Set as a dramatization of the Scopes Monkey Trial, Inherit the Wind puts issues of freedom on thought on trial in issues we are still facing today. Conservatives put Bertram Cates (Scopes in real life) on trial for teaching Evolution and Darwinism in the public schools causing just as much stir in 1925 as it does in the 21st Century.

The whole event becomes a political circus as Matthew Harrison Brady (in real life William Jennings Bryan) volunteers to prosecute the case and win a moral victor for America. The Northern liberal press, not wanting to be defeated on this issue, send in Henry Drummond (real life Clarence Darrow also featured in Thrill Me) who at that time would have been the modern equivalent of a lawyer who got off Charles Manson.

The play sweeps to a climax when, after being denied the testimony of any of his scientific witnesses, Drummond calls Brady to the stand as an expert on the Holy Bible and essentially puts religion on trial. What follows is a debate about free thinking and faith. In the end Cates is found guilty and fined a measly $100 (Scopes eventually won his case in the U.S. Supreme Court) and Brady indignant at the lack of punishment launches into a closing speech - ignored by all in attendance - suffers a heart attack and dies in the courtroom.

Courtroom Dramas are just that - high drama. There is a reason why the genre does so well on-stage, in the cinema, and especially on television. Where is there a better setting from impassioned, high-stakes debate. This play is certainly a gem in that department.

Happy Birthday: Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) and Cirroc Lofton (b. 1978)

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