Once again, I must implore you to take your kids to see The Justice Theater Project’s production of Inherit the Wind, starring Byron Jennings II as defense attorney Henry Drummund and Paul Wilson as prosecutor Matthew Harrison Brady. Even if you’ve seen Inherit the Wind in the past or have seen the 1960 film version of the 1955 Broadway historical drama, it will give you an opportunity to expose a new generation to an important American work. Not only will you and your family get to see great acting and direction at a convenient and inexpensive local theater, but you will also get to see an important story.
Inherit the Wind is a dramatization of the Scopes Monkey Trial, which took place in 1925 in Dayton, TN. The State of Tennessee was prosecuting a teacher for the “crime” of teaching Evolution. It was a small case in a small town, but it became a lightning rod for the battle over education vs. religion. Baltimore Evening Sun reporter H.L. Mencken, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Scopes defense attoney Clarence Darrow and prosecutor William Jennings Bryan helped to turn this case into a national debate.
The play, written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee some 30 years after the trial, loosely follows the event, ramping up the drama for the stage. It is as relevant today as it was in 1955 and for that matter, in 1925. It is a fine demonstration of both civil and uncivil discourse: something dominating our culture today.
JTP’s version, deftly directed by Jerry Sipp, is cleverly staged to fit the venue. The audience is split on opposite sides of the room, with the action taking place in the middle. I could see everything from where I was sitting, although some patrons may have had a portion of their view blocked by the courtroom gallery. As it is general-admission seating, I would recommend sitting closer to the front of the room.
The casting was modernized with regard to race and gender; and I feel this added, rather than detracted, from the delivery. For instance, the part of the reporter, E.K. Hornbeck, traditionally a male role, was played by Nan L. Stephenson, who added a sharp and cynical touch. There was some evidence of opening-night jitters through some fumbled lines and mistimed dialogue delivery, but nothing to distract from the power of the script. I particularly liked Michael Parker as Bert Cates the defendant and Randy Jordan as Meeker the bailiff.
My most important takeaway from this production by The Justice Theater Project is its value as an educational tool for young people. The Umstead Park United Church of Christ is a perfect venue to expose young people not only to quality local theater, but a story that can be discussed and even researched as a family. This is like a “Law & Order” story literally “ripped from the headlines,” which has stayed relevant for over a century. Bonus points go to any parent who can explain to Junior the subtle theme of the dangers of McCarthyism. Another reason to bring the kids is that The Justice Theater Project charges only $5 per ticket to students for this and most of their other productions.
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 Pamela Vesper, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/09/byron-jennings-henry-drummond-is-superb-and-randy-jordans-meeker-is-a-treat-in-jtps-inherit-the-wind/.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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).
Robert O’Connell is new to the Triangle, but not to the stage. As a playwright, he has had dozens of productions and awards throughout the world. He has an MS degree in Management Systems Analysis. A lifelong educator, O’Connell has also published three novels at http://www.flashmobthenovel.com/ and two humor anthologies from his blog, https://thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com/. He and his wife have settled in Cary, NC. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.