Inherit the Wind Theatre Review - A Must See Revival of a Timely Classic

               

With only one previous production under its figurative Bible belt, Action! Theatre Company presents Inherit the Wind at the art/Works Theatre in Hollywood.  The company was founded in December of 2007 by a group of eager actors and is managed by artistic director, and happenchance director of Inherit the Wind, Tiger Reel.  There was a noticeable and refreshing ambition in the youth of this company; a sort of “welcome to our home, we’re really excited to show you around.”  In short, the vibe was, well, inspiring.

“Inherit the Wind” opened on Broadway in 1957, with revivals in 1996 and 2007, and was recreated for the screen in 1960 starring Spencer Tracy, Fredric March and Gene Kelly.  The play was one of many collaborations by the playwrighting team of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee and its story dramatizes the 1925 John T. Scopes “Monkey Trial” that convicted Mr. Scopes for teaching the work of Charles Darwin. 

The play begins post-crime with Mr. Bertram Gates (John Paul Karliak), the dramatized version of Mr. Scopes, already in jail.  The small town of Hillsboro is in a flurry of daunting disbelief and trepidation that is upstaged only by their own joy at the coming of the renowned, God-fearing attorney, Mr. Matthew Harrison Brady (Jim Rice). Brady, the twice almost president elect and self-proclaimed “layman expert” of the Bible, shall represent the good people and the state of Tennessee in what seems like a clear and eager win. 

Jim Rice as Matthew Harrison Brady in "Inherit The Wind"

The defense, however, will find its secret weapon in the agnostic Yankee lawyer Henry Drummond (Robert Craig), who voluntarily travels to the small town to defend free thought and question the limitations of religion and state.  Throw in Mr. (or in this particular production, Ms.) E.K. Hornbeck (Julie Terrell), a reporter for the Baltimore Herald (the role played by Gene Kelly in the movie meant to represent the American journalist/essayist/satirist H.L. Mencken) and you have a menagerie of characters to light the philosophical fire of the free thought debate. 

In his director’s notes, Tiger Reel points out that in our era of Red and Blue states, this play is arguably more relevant now than it was when it was written.  With that sentiment, I truly agree.  From economic hardship to war, these days have instigated a growing discourse and separation.  Where we turn in our own beliefs can either enforce that separation or bring us together.  This play seems to illustrate just that.   

Robert Craig as Henry Drummond in "Inherit The Wind"

Walking into any given production on the Santa Monica Boulevard strip, of often less than fully realized theatrical dreams, one can easily be reminded of how truly hit or miss the LA underground theatre scene can be.  But my attention and interest were immediately caught by this particular production.  A sort of unforeseen “pre-show”, in which all the characters are displayed in their environment-to-be, welcomes you in your first steps inside the relatively small theatre. The characters meander about the space in anticipation of the start of the show and within seconds you are introduced to the fully involved ensemble that will add a rich depth to an already interesting story.

Throughout the production, a live four-piece folk band (Good Apple/Bad Tree) plays a set of fantastic songs akin to the religious sentiment of the story.  This detail is absolutely incredible.  Haunting at times and humorous at others, the live music gives incredible dimension to the storyline.

In seeing this production, I realized what it is that so often goes wrong with low budget productions in smaller theatres.  No one seems to comprehend the space in which they are working.  I only realized this because Tiger Reel has so clearly used every aspect of what could be viewed as his limitations to his absolute advantage.  The set, which Reel also designed, seems to extend to every corner of the space.  Set pieces are hung from the walls as opposed to stored in awkward wings or empty spaces.  Initially, you think these items are only for decoration but it becomes so rewarding as each piece hung on the wall finds its place within the story.  The first row of the house is even used as a jury box- an effect that successfully draws the audience into the action on the stage.  It is all of these clearly calculated and meticulously indulged details that make this production crisp and wonderfully successful.

Raymond Donahey as Reverend Jeremiah Brown in "Inherit The Wind"

The ensemble of characters is without any true thorn or flaw.  They remain on set through the “pre-show” and intermission and leave only after the final bows.  They work so well together, enjoying an often-welcomed improv of response to actions on stage and the chemistry suggests a rehearsal process in which a true understanding of the story and script was reached.  Our two leading men, Robert Craig and James Rice who play Drummon and Brady, respectively, meet the challenge of a rigorously demanding script and aside from what was possibly a series of opening night line slips, their performances maintained a solid base to support the many demands of the full production.

Details are so dramatically the key and this production fully embraces that knowledge.  I am happily anxious to see what more Action! Theatre Company has to offer with future productions.  Immense applause and gratitude to the company and the wonderful direction of Tiger Reel. 

Inherit the Wind opened Saturday, August 23, 2008 and will runs through September 14, 2008 @:


art/works Theatre
6569 Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90029

Thursday - Saturday @ 8pm, Sundays @ 6pm

For reservations call: 323-908-7276

Photos by: Lisa Vachon

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