Disinherit the Wind Review - Scopes Monkey Trial Redux

DISINHERIT THE WIND is definitely a Matt Chait production. As playwright, lead actor, and owner of the Complex Theatres where the play is performed, he certainly qualifies as the mastermind behind this production. Based on Matt Chait’s blog about a subject close to his heart, DISINHERIT THE WIND explores the question of the relationship between science and spirituality.  Are they separate and distinctive issues doomed never to meet? Or can they co-habit, leading to a theory in which a juxtaposition of the two is possible?

Matt Chait - Photo by Ed Krieger

Directed by uber-experienced Gary Lee Reed, DISINHERIT THE WIND makes a detailed attempt to marry the two ideas. University professor Dr. Bertram Cates (Matt Chait) has been fired from his tenured University of California position due to his heretical ideas about evolution. He has had the scientific audacity to question Darwin’s nineteenth-century theories of natural selection and random mutation.

Ken Stirbl and G. Smokey Campbell - Photo by Ed Krieger

Cates decides to sue the university, and the bulk of the play takes place in the courtroom where UC attorney William Brady (Ken Stirbl) and UC representative and chair of the microbiology department Dr. Jared Brown (G. Smokey Campbell) uphold the university’s position. Meanwhile, Cates’ primary supporter is his brilliant graduate student Howard Blair (Stephen Tyler Howell), who just happens to be in love with Dr. Brown’s daughter Melinda (Renahy Aulani). As time goes on, it becomes abundantly clear that the rigid thinking of religious zealots in “Inherit the Wind” has transformed into the modern-day rigid thinking of the scientists developing twentieth century research into theoretical models. Enter Dr. Richard Hawkins (Circus-Szalewski), the spokesperson for present-day Darwinism. When Cates and Hawkins join the fray, sparks will fly.

Stephen Tyler Howell, Matt Chait, Circus-Szalewski, and Christina Hart - Photo by Ed Krieger

DISINHERIT THE WIND draws multiple intriguing parallels with “Inherit the Wind” – from vilified teacher Scopes (Cate) to a love interest Rachel (Melinda) torn by her allegiances. The duel between Henry Drummond (Cate) and Matthew Harrison Brady (Richard Hawkins) lives again. But the issues have been turned topsy-turvy, which makes for fascinating theater. At the same time, DISINHERIT THE WIND is a highly academic and intellectual exercise which is clearly Chait’s cause celebre. The play is very long, very talky, and sometimes enters the realm of preaching. It will prove gripping to a well-educated audience prepared to be lectured to by a very talented and personable Matt Chait. The balance of the cast have difficulty reaching the bar which the involved Chait has set. At least one cast member appeared to be somewhat miscast, while the remainder of the cast may have had some difficulty projecting more than a surface persona. This is a play of ideas, with characters playing a secondary role.

Stephen Tyler Howell and Renahy Aulani - Photo by Ed Krieger

Director Garry Lee Reed has helmed a difficult play with expertise. Marco De Leon’s set is clever and interesting, with angles and lines replicating the many thorny issues introduced in the dialogue. Phillip W. Powers’ lighting, Sheiva Khalily’s projection design, and Ross Chait’s sound all add to the overall effect of the production. DISINHERIT THE WIND is definitely a play for adults, and those adults had better be thinking adults, preferably with a background in the sciences.

Circus-Szalewski, Caroline Simone O'Brien, Matt Chait, and Ken Stirbl - Photo by Ed Krieger

DISINHERIT THE WIND runs until April 9, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Complex (Ruby Theatre) is located at 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038. Tickets range from $15 (students) to $25 (general admission). For information and reservations, call 323-960-4420 or go online

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