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THEATER REVIEW 'INHERIT THE WIND' : Court Theatrics : Creation versus evolution drama still plays well nearly four decades after the play made its debut.

August 22, 1991|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

While some shows dealing with topical issues age more gracefully than others, there's no denying the continuing timeliness of "Inherit the Wind."

The 1955 play was a dramatization of events taking place in Tennessee some 30 years earlier, when Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes was put on trial for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in a state filled with devout creationists.

Currently in revival by the Camarillo Community Theater, "Inherit the Wind" will remain contemporary as long as threats to freedom of speech are directed from the left, right or center.

Evidently, the show's in the air; the Camarillo group was able to secure rights and mount a production where at least two other local groups had planned to within the last year, but for one reason or another failed.

The Scopes trial aroused national attention, drawing attorneys Clarence Darrow and two-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan to represent the defense and prosecution, respectively.

The dueling orators--here called Henry Drummond and Matthew Harrison Brady--are virtually the whole show; Ed Begley and Paul Muni won Tony awards for their Broadway portrayals, and Spencer Tracy and Fredric March chomped up the scenery in Stanley Kramer's 1960 film version.

Robert E. (Doc) Reynolds and John A. Masterson star in the Camarillo version, confidently directed by Meredith Johnston. The actors are fit opponents whose skills seem equally matched despite the fact that playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee make every effort to favor the Darrow character.

The bulk of supporting cast, 31 in all, are (with a couple of nervous exceptions) at least adequate to their roles, with Michael Voll, Susan Wiltfang and John Elwell especially notable as Bertram Cates (the Scopes character); Rachel Brown, his love interest, and the presiding judge, respectively.

Loftes Tryk has designed a three-level stage set that makes good use of the high school auditorium's stage, and the sound and lighting are better than average.

A tape of intermission music cleverly includes Southern gospel music by Johnny Cash and the Carter Family, Charlie Rich and the Statler Brothers, together with some less appropriate choices.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Inherit the Wind" continues through Sept. 1 at the Camarillo Airport Theater, 330 Skyway Drive (just west of Las Posas Road and Pleasant Valley Drive) on the Camarillo Airport grounds. Performances are at 8 Friday and Saturday nights, and 7:30 Sundays. General admission tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students, seniors and active military, with group discounts available. For information or reservations, call 388-5716.

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