Don’t let the content or the time period of Inherit the Wind fool you, the show is snappier and livelier than ever.
With a cast of 26 actors, the Segal Centre’s production of the Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee classic is updated with a mix of gospel songs and a youthful spirit.
Inherit the Wind, based on the infamous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, is about a high school teacher in Tennessee convicted of teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution at a time when the Bible was the prominent textbook in the American South.
The play opens when Rachel Brown (Tamara Brown), the daughter of the town’s Bible-thumping reverend, comes to visit her Darwinist boyfriend Bert Cates (Karl Graboshas), who is locked up in county jail awaiting trial. Concerned for her partner and fellow teacher, but not willing to let go of her Christian beliefs, she later testifies against him in court.
Colourblind casting is used to curious effect, as the reverend and his daughter are both black. At the time, an interracial couple would probably have caused more of a stir than Darwin’s The Origin of Species. However, the casting choice may be a political statement; love, whether interracial or same-sex, should remain separate from religious debate.
Meanwhile, the town is celebrating the arrival of Matthew Harrison Brady (David Francis), the three-time presidential candidate and conservative Christian attorney, who has come to prosecute the young evolutionist. The picnic scene Brady is led to, magnificently designed by Eli Bunton, shows the talented cast in its glory, complete with children donning monkey masks and an illiterate man selling Bibles that he cannot read.
Tensions rise when an atheist Chicago defence attorney, Henry Drummond (Sean McCann), arrives and draws attention to the case that could change the religious outlook of the country.
Act two is a showdown between the two lawyers as they duke it out in the courtroom. Although there is not much physical movement in the second half it feels even lively that the first, due mostly to a sharp and witty script and the powerhouse acting chops of the leads.
The acting is so spot on, it is fair to say that McCann and Francis do not portray the characters but embody them. McCann, with his deep, raspy baritone and purple suspenders, is given all the snappy dialogue. When questioning a possible jury member about his religion, the man says his wife takes care of the religion for him. “So you look after this life and your wife looks after the next,” said Drummond.
Francis, on the other hand, is given the broadest emotional range. His final scene left me with chills, as the audience witnessed a man falling apart before them.
“They’re laughing at me, Mother,” Brady said to his wife once the trial is over. “I can’t stand it when they laugh at me.”
Once the lights came up, two theatregoers, seated behind me decided to dissect the show.
“They took so many liberties,” one woman said, complaining about the changes made to this revival.
“But a play is a growing living thing,” her friend replied in defense.
No matter the minute changes, Inherit the Wind is a fine piece of theatre and has remained just as current as it was in the 1950s.
Inherit the Wind is at the Segal Centre until Nov. 8. Tickets are $35 – $40 for adults and $22 for students.