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Review: 'Inherit the Wind' sets a lively, brisk pace at Old Globe

July 12, 2012|By Margaret Gray
  • Henry Drummond (Robert Foxworth, front left) puts his opposing counsel, Matthew Harrison Brady (Adrian Sparks) on the witness stand in a climactic courtroom scene in "Inherit the Wind" at the Old Globe.
Henry Drummond (Robert Foxworth, front left) puts his opposing counsel,… (Henry DiRocco )

At the Old Globe’s 2012 Shakespeare Festival, Adrian Noble is running “Inherit the Wind” in repertory with “Richard III” and “As You Like It” — as a palate cleanser, possibly, for the festival’s actors and audiences alike.

After the Elizabethan flavors and complex psychology of either Shakespeare play, the straightforwardly told, morally certain 1955 American classic goes down like a nice cheese cube. Yes, it may be hokey and melodramatic (does anybody really ever die of overheated rhetoric?), but it eloquently sums up the value of freedom of thought — which is still under siege in our country.

Also, who doesn't love a courtroom drama? Noble has directed this revival at a brisk, enjoyable pace in the Old Globe’s plein-air theater. Ralph Funicello’s creative set is made up of variously sized wooden tables, arranged and rearranged by the cast, who wear Deirdre Clancy’s charmingly homespun costumes and sing gospel songs during scene changes. Robert Foxworth and Adrian Sparks deliver standout performances.

“Inherit the Wind” is Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s fast-and-loose dramatization of the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial,” in which a Tennessee schoolteacher was tried for teaching evolution. The high-profile case attracted two famous lawyers: for the prosecution, William Jennings Bryan; for the defense, Clarence Darrow. Revisiting it 30 years later, the playwrights thinly disguised Bryan as Matthew Harrison Brady (Sparks) and Darrow as Henry Drummond (Foxworth).

The robustly orotund Sparks plays Brady as a kindly, well-intentioned activist undone by smugness. Charles Janasz is repellently ardent as the town preacher. Joseph Marcell entertains as reporter E.K. Hornbeck (based onH.L. Mencken), who, high on his own purple prose, supports the right side for the wrong reasons. The schoolteacher, renamed Bert Cates (Dan Amboyer), and his girlfriend, Rachel, the preacher’s daughter (Vivia Font), stumble sweetly toward a childlike understanding of democratic principles.

Drummond, the play’s uncontested hero, alone resists confusion and zealotry. In Foxworth’s deliciously dry interpretation, the price of his clear-sightedness is exhaustion and solitude; its reward the occasional mordant chuckle. His performance made me realize that the American cowboy never really retired — he just went to law school.


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“Inherit the Wind,” Old Globe, Balboa Park, San Diego. In repertory: Call for schedule. Ends Sept. 25. $66 and up. (619) 234-5623 or Running time: 2 hours.

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