Inherit the Wind
by Jerome Lawrence
and Robert E. Lee
|Directed by Clark Neher||
In the middle of the hot summer of 1925, the famous "Monkey Trial" took place in Dayton, Tennessee, a small town of about eighteen hundred people in the Cumberland Valley. A young teacher named John Scopes stood accused of violating the Butler Act, a measure passed earlier that year to restrict the teaching of evolution in state-funded schools. The defense featured the famous attorney Clarence Darrow, and the prosecution starred the celebrated orator, populist, and three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.
Thirty years later, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee set what they saw as the essence of the whole extraordinary episode in their play Inherit the Wind, which has since become a classic of the American theater.
As the play opens, Bertram Cates, a courageous and idealistic young teacher in Hillsboro, Tennessee, is imprisoned in the town jail for teaching evolution to his high school biology class. Matthew Harrison Brady, populist icon, three-time Democratic presidential candidate, and leader of the crusade against evolution, arrives in Hillsboro to prosecute the case, where he is greeted by the mayor and a large, enthusiastic crowd singing "Give me that old-time religion."
Also arriving in Hillsboro, however, is E. K. Hornbeck of the Baltimore Herald, who has championed Cates in his columns and is greatly and haughtily amused at the spectacle of ignorance and bigotry before him. Speaking in a kind of ironic poetry-patter, he constantly mocks Brady and the pious provincialism that supports him. Hornbeck announces that the lone, embattled Cates will have a defender, courtesy of the Herald-the great Henry Drummond, who sidles into town later that evening with little notice. Brady is adored and applauded as he pontificates about the evils of evolution and gobbles large amounts of food, but poor Drummond is shunned by the townspeople.
In the course of the trial, Brady starts out confidently, full of self- righteousness and ready rhetoric about "the Revealed Word." Not only are the courtroom spectators clearly with Brady, but the judge excludes Drummond's scientific witnesses on the grounds that evolution itself is not on trial. Desperate for some way to challenge the law under which Cates stands accused, Drummond decides to put Brady on the stand as an expert on the Bible, and Brady accepts the challenge with gusto. The ensuing examination turns the case around: Drummond exposes Brady's untenable literal acceptance of the Bible, not to mention his understanding of himself as a self-anointed prophet. The crowd begins to laugh at Brady, and, after the courtroom empties, he seeks comfort in the bosom of his mothering wife.
Though the jury brings in the inevitable guilty verdict, it is clear that Drummond has triumphed-and along with him, freedom of thought. The judge charges Cates a token fine of one hundred dollars. Protesting the light punishment, Brady tries to make what he considers an all-important closing speech, but the judge, embarrassed at the negative publicity the town has received, precipitately ends the trial. Sputtering and shouting, Brady collapses and is taken from the courtroom and shortly afterward dies.
Along the way, the play develops a conventional subplot concerning Cates' fiancee, Rachel Brown, who at first wants him to recant. Tricked by Brady into testifying about private discussions that tend to incriminate Cates as a nonbeliever, she eventually sees her mistake and finds the strength to stand beside him. Her father Jeremiah is a fire- and-brimstone preacher who, in a vengeful prayer meeting the first night of the trial, nearly scares the wits out of his daughter until the more benign Brady intervenes.
And yet, in discussing Brady's death after the trial, Drummond repudiates the journalist Hornbeck's scathing ridicule. As Drummond sees it, Brady was a once-great man who had ceased to move forward. When Drummond, in defense of Brady, shows that he too knows the Bible, Hornbeck charges him with being even more religious than Brady was. In its closing scenes, the play emphasizes again what it suggested throughout: Brady's fundamentalism is wrong, but so is Hornbeck's godless cynicism. The enlightened and humane Drummond's intention was not to tear down legitimate belief but only to fight ignorance and bigotry. In the last scene he picks up Darwin's On the Origin of Species and the Bible, weighs them thoughtfully in his hands, and exits confidently with both books in his briefcase.
* Rose Alexander * Don Austin * Linda Dersch * Patrick Ducharm * Chuck Gebbia * Tony Gebbia * Mike Groark * Chris Johnson * Linda Johnson * Orv Kersten * Mary Lou Kator * Ashley Landshaft * Kevin Luby * Lawrence Nepodahl * Robert Noonan * Vicki McCue * Brad Pietens * Aaron Schryver * Eric Teeter * Todd Toles *