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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review: ‘Inherit the Wind’ is Exciting First Class Theater

ITW_1JG7446

The Barn Theatre in Montville is an all volunteer, non-professional community theater that is in its final week of presenting the classic play "Inherit the Wind."  This production directed by Todd Mills impressively blurs the line between professional and community theater. Mills has created an absolutely first class theater event the equal of most of the activity across the river.

First, the play is the powerful story of a small bible belt town that places on trial a high school teacher for violating a law that forbade the teaching of Darwinian evolution. Yes, it is a fictionalized version of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 where a high school teacher named John Scopes was put on trial in Tennessee for teaching evolution. In the trial, the three time candidate for the Presidency William Jennings Bryan, and a fundamentalist hero who believed the Bible should be interpreted literally, spoke for the prosecution and the distinguished Chicago lawyer (and agnostic) Clarence Darrow for the defense. The trial was the key battle of biblical literalism versus science and reason and is considered one of the most important trials in United States history. However, Darrow considered the trial primarily about the right to think.

The authors, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, in their adaptation, that premiered on Broadway in 1955, changed the names of the principal characters involved: Bryan became "Matthew Harrison Brady," Darrow became "Henry Drummond," the Baltimore newspaperman H. L. Mencken became "E.K. Hornbeck," and John Scopes became "Bertram Cates."

ITW_1JG7452 The cast is a marvelous group of mostly veteran actors who would impress on anyone's stage. The six leads are truly outstanding: Kevern Cameron is a perfect Matthew Harrison Brady. His verbal sparring with Drummond that leads to a violent crescendo is live theater at its exciting best. Christopher Gibbs, who is a cross between liberals Henry Fonda and Sam Waterston, is equally perfect as Drummond. These two actors carry the play up to a  rarified level. The cynical reporter, E.K. Hornbeck, is in the impressive hands of John Hopko. The "fire and brimstone" fundamentalist preacher, Rev. Brown is played forcefully by Hank Barre. The teacher Bertram Cates is ably played by William Darche. Cates' friend and colleague Rachel Brown, the Rev. Brown's daughter, is the properly supportive Elizabeth Sherpa.

Major supporting roles are: Greg Moran as the Judge; Sam Mullaney as Howard Blair, a 13-year-old high school student; Payton Casarico as Melinda Loomis, a 12-year-old girl who believes strongly in the Bible; John Hawes as the district attorney Tom Davenport; and Robert Loucks as the Mayor, deeply concerned about the economic future of his town.

ITW_1JG7268 Others in the cast (many with minor speaking roles): Michael Burkett as Meeker, the bailiff; Laura Kennedy as Mrs. Sarah Brady, Matthew Harrison Brady's wife; Sharon Moran as Mrs. Krebs, leader of the Ladies' Aid Society; Brad Ireland as Mr. Bannister, a local citizen; Steve Nitka as Elijah, the illiterate Bible salesman; Dave McDonald as Harry Esterbrook, the radio reporter; Francis Tomitz as Jesse Dunlap, a local farmer; Steven Frommeyer as George Sillers, an employee at the feed store; Cheryl Bear as Mrs. Blair; Roy Bogert as Mr. Goodfellow; Gianna Esposito as Mrs. McLain; Cy Friedman as Hot Dog man/reporter; Jeff Kinkade as the Reuters man; and Lauren Pinto as Mrs. Loomis.

The key creative staff includes: Jay Mills, consultant to the Director; KC Cameron and Todd Mills, set design; Todd Mills and Tommy Pravata, lighting design; Rich Wittenberg, sound design; Janice Schopper, costumes; Nancy Zeidenberg and Marie Bogert, props; Lauren Moran Mills, hair/make-up design; Alice Moynahan, stage manager. All aspects of the staging, set, costumes, etc. contributed greatly to this theater experience.

"Inherit the Wind" is an excellent play that remains as relevant as ever as religious fundamentalists continue to try to blur the separation of church and state.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   March 29, 2015

The play's title comes from Proverbs 11:29, which in the King James Bible reads: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart." It is in Act Two, Scene One, Brady admonishes Reverend Brown with this Bible quote for alienating his daughter when he gives a fiery sermon against Cates.

The remaining performances will be on April 3 and 4 at 8pm;  Tickets are $18. The Barn Theatre is located on Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Exit 47 from Route 287. For  reservations, information or directions, call The Barn Theatre Box Office at (973) 334-9320, or visit The Barn Theatre on the web at www.barntheatre.org

 

1:Top photo: Courtroom

2: Standing- K.C. Cameron left, Christopher Gibbs right

3: William Darche left, Elizabeth Sherpa right

Photos by Joe Gigli

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