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Byron Jennings’ Henry Drummond Is Superb, and Randy Jordan’s Meeker Is a Treat, in JTP’s Production of Inherit the Wind

The Justice Theater Project’s production of Inherit the Wind, directed by Jerry Sipp, takes place in a small town called Hillsboro, TN, not too long ago. A high school teacher named Bertram Cates (played here by Michael Parker) had the audacity to teach his students Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. In a town where the Bible is seen as the literal word of God, teaching evolution is not only blasphemous; but it also happens to be unlawful, so Cates is charged with criminal conduct and he is summarily thrown in jail.

For the people of this provincial town, the trial is seen as a defense of their beliefs, their lives, and their God. But this particular trial will also have reverberations throughout the country, pitting religious fundamentalists against evolutionists, believers against thinkers. The big city newspaper has even sent down E.K. Hornbeck (Nan Stephenson) to write about the event, and the media across the country is watching in anticipation.

With so much at stake, two of the greatest legal minds are brought in to argue the case. For the fundamentalists, it is Matthew Harrison Brady (Paul Wilson), a religious fundamentalist lawyer who also happens to have famously run for the presidency. Defending the teacher is Henry Drummond (Byron Jennings II), a fancy Chicago lawyer with an impressive resume and a track record to match. Brady is given a hero’s welcome when his train pulls into town, complete a picnic and all of the Southern hospitality that the town can muster; but Drummond is called a devil, leaving little hope for a fair trial for the defendant. The town’s disdain is palpable.

Although it is a small town and everyone knows everyone else, Bertram Cates’ only kindness comes from his jailer, Meeker (Randy Jordan), and Rachel Brown (Jess Barbour). Rachel happens to be Bertram’s girlfriend and the daughter of a local preacher, so another storm is a-brewin’. All of the rest of town, it seems, are treating poor Cates like a murderer. Clearly, the town and even the judge (Linda Carnes) won’t allow any discussion of evolution. What is a defense lawyer to do? Put the prosecutor on the stand.

Props go to Byron Jennings; his Henry Drummond is superlative. Also a treat is Randy Jordan’s Meeker, who channels so many small-town jailers across the State of North Carolina. Jennings tackles a serious challenge as the defense counsel, and Jordan is a refreshing sip of much needed lemonade on a hot day.

From the moment that the audience enters the nave of the Umstead Park United Church of Christ of Raleigh, NC, they are immersed in the show. The seats are being set up; locals are milling around; and last-minute tasks are being handled, just as they would be in a small town accommodating an influx of bystanders for the “Trial of the Century.”

Souvenir purveyors are selling their wares, and popcorn and peanuts are on offer. As the locals set up our seats, the audience realizes that they are in for something special. Audience members are even recruited for jury duty. Get there early to experience the full flavor of small-town dissent and small-town hospitality.

The play makes us consider the power of human fear — fear of standing up for something important, fear of losing faith, fear of being cast out by your family and friends, fear of community shunning, fear of perhaps losing it all for a cause. Will we be courageous when the time comes to stand up? Can we handle being wrong? Are we willing to hear something that challenges us to think in a new way?

It is easy to watch from afar and to judge these provincial folk who refuse to consider anything but their ingrained viewpoint. But are they really so far removed from us today? We still seem to be cursed with a black-and-white, all-or-nothing mentality — one side is right, and one side is wrong. When will we find the courage to try to find some common ground?

Proverbs 11:29: says, “He that troubles his own house shall inherit the wind.” As I read that, it means to keep your head down or you will lose everything. But will you? Because it says right there in John 8:32, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” I don’t know. You tell me. I’m listening.

The Justice Theater Project will present Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee’s Inherit the Wind, directed by Jerry Sipp, on Sept. 13-15, 20-22, and 27-29 at the Umstead Park United Church of Christ in Raleigh

SECOND OPINION: Sept. 11th Hillsborough, NC WHUP/104.7 FM interview with director Jerry Sipp and actor Byron Jennings II, conducted by Wayne Leonard for “Lights Up!”: https://whupfm.org/episode/lights-up-9-11-19-permanent-archive/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 14th Triangle Review review by Robert O’Connell, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/09/the-justice-theater-projects-production-of-inherit-the-wind-is-an-important-play-for-the-whole-family/.)

The Justice Theater Project presents INHERIT THE WIND at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14, 3:30 p.m. Sept. 15, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20 and 21, 3:30 p.m. Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28, and at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Umstead Park United Church of Christ, 8208 Brownleigh Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina 27617.

TICKETS: $22 ($5 students and $20 seniors and active-duty military personnel), except $18 per person for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: http://www.etix.com/. INFORMATION: 919-264-7089 or thejusticetheaterproject@gmail.com.

SHOW: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/inherit-the-wind and https://www.facebook.com/events/480244722559215/.

VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxBHgS6sKv8.

2019-20 SEASON: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/201920-season.

PRESENTER: http://thejusticetheaterproject.org/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Justice-Theater-Project/29290766458, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNGoYepGz-n99gOyTAj7QTg.

VENUE: http://upucc.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/UmsteadParkUCC.

DIRECTIONS: http://upucc.org/contact-usdirections.

MAP: https://www.google.com/maps/.

NOTE 1: There will be preshow discussions and various other events before various performances. Click here and scroll down for details.

NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29th, performance.

OTHER LINKS:

Inherit the Wind (1955 Broadway historical drama): https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1689 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/inherit-the-wind-2514 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053946/ (Internet Movie Database: 1960 film), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inherit_the_Wind_(play) (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: https://www.primestage.com/files/pdf/resource_guides/resource_guide_inherit_the_wind.pdf (Prime Stage Theatre of Pittsburgh, PA).

Jerome Lawrence (playwright, 1915-2004): https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jerome-Lawrence (Encyclopædia Britannica), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jerome-lawrence-6713 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0492823/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome_Lawrence (Wikipedia).

Robert Edwin Lee (playwright, 1918-94): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/robert-e-lee-8365 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0498126/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_E._Lee_(playwright) (Wikipedia).

Jerry Sipp (Hillsborough, NC director): http://jerrysipp.com/index.html (official website), http://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/335415-jerry-sipp (AboutTheArtists bio), and https://www.facebook.com/jerry.sipp (Facebook page).

REVIEWER:

Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews