By Richard Pacheco
“The current production of “Inherit the Wind” at Ocean State Theatre sparkled with dazzling performances, propelled by energy, sincerity and conviction. The play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, which debuted in 1955. The story fictionalizes the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial as a means to discuss the then-contemporary McCarthy trials.
It ends up a debate about creationism versus evolution and a matter of oppression of free thought and a right to dissent for the overall moral climate and standards. The case which inspired it, which resulted in John T. Scopes’ conviction for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to a high school science class, contrary to a Tennessee state law. Yet this is not meant to be an historical account per the playwrights, Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee and many things in the play differ from the real Scopes trial.
In the play, the situation is the same as high school teacher. Bertram Cates does the same in his highs school class to meet the ire and condemnation of the town and a legal nightmare as he is arrested for violating this law. This action brings national attention to the small, traditionally religious town. It brings in the big legal guns to battle it out in the courtroom, the bombastic, self-confident Matthew Harrison Brady (based on William Jennings Bryant) , a three time presidential nominee and an avid and determined religious zealot to prosecute this threat to established Bible guideless and dogma. On the other side in attracts famed atheist and legal lion, Henry Drummond (based on Clarence Darrow) who ops to defend the young teacher, at the behest of a Baltimore newspaper, the fictional Baltimore Herald, amidst the hailstorm of media circus which also descend upon the previously quiet town.
It all takes place in the courtroom and the jail and hotel as well as outside. Tom Gleadow is Drummond, the factious Clarence Darrow. He is a pan of dedication and purpose, determined to stand up for free thought against all efforts to imprison it and the person who tries to talk about evolution in the schools. Drummond is the epitome of rational thought, at once intelligent and legally clever, able to deftly dance about and around obstacles in his path with almost effortless grace and confidence, propelled by his intelligence and raw passion and determination. He is a relentless advocate for free thought and free speech. Gleadow is a delight in the role; he offers a real presence and poise. He is easy going and charismatic, a sheer force of nature as Drummond.
Brandon Whitehead is Brady, his opponent and one time close friend and confidant. Brady is a zealot, filled to overflowing with religious zeal to the point of being almost irrational about it. Brady believes in God in no uncertain terms. He believes in the Bible and anything which contradicts it deserves to be condemned. Anyone who challenges it in any manner deserves to be punished. He is sincere in his beliefs and dedicated to them in the face of any and all obstacles. He will not be swayed. Do not dare stand in his way or face the wrath of God as found in the passion of Matthew Harrison Brady, his servant and advocate. Whitehead is perfect in the role, making Brady a sincere and passionate man, who will defend what he believes with all his might and intelligence. He is a moral man with his principles, which he defends openly, honestly and with zeal. Whitehead is convincing as the sincere religious man who holds fast to his principles no matter the forces against him.
Mark Dante Mancini is the teacher, Cates. Cates is dedicated and determined to bring forth science in the face of religious obstructionism without necessarily deducing they are at odds. He is a sincere teacher with a genuine caring for his students and for the truth. Mancini is sincere and convincing, robust with youthful enthusiasm and concern. He delivers a polished performance.
Steven Liebhauser is E.K. Hornbeck the newspaperman from the Baltimore Herald. He is full of wise cracks and a somewhat cynical view of human nature as well as a particular dislike for religious zealots. He is a mixture of smart aleck and truthful in his pursuit for facts. Liebhauser is the right mixture of irreverent and determined in the role, full of flamboyant flair and finesse.
There is solid support coming from the rest of the large cast. Nora Eschenheimer plays Rachel, Cates’ fiancé. She is pert, honest and sweet in the performance, as she supports her fiancé with everything she has even in the face of her father. Chris Perrotti is Rev. Brown, a man of determination and religious convictions to defend his view of the Bible And God in the face of all threats like Cates. Perotti is excellent a mixture of unbridled passion and energy in the role. The rest of the large cast such as Mark Cartier as the judge and Karen Gail Kessler as Brady’s wife are all top notch.
Fred Sullivan Jr. does a wonderful job directing all this, keeping it moving along with passion and energy. He makes the most of his fine cast with great skill and passion. Scenic designer Erik D. Diaz has developed a sparse yet highly effective set which invokes more than it actually shows, but ends up being very rich and vivid, a winning environment for the play.
“Inherit the Wind” at Ocean State is a superb theatrical experience, punctuated by a winning cast, direction and set. It is rich and vivid and invokes intelligently some issues, which have confronted society over the past several presidential administrations.
It will continue at Ocean State Theatre Company 1245 Jefferson Blvd. Warwick, RI 02886 , through April 16. Evening shows at 7:30, matinees at 2 pm. $24 to $39. Box Office, 401-921-6800. http://www.oceanstatetheatre.org