"In Ohio, scientists have been campaigning for candidates who support the teaching of evolution and have recruited at least one biologist from out of state to help."
A quote from the "Cleveland Plain Dealer" in 1925? Hard to believe, but it's from a 2006 article in the "New York Times." Small wonder then that Jerome Lawrence's and Robert E. Lee's legendary 1955 play, "Inherit the Wind," continues to endure. The tightly written script, full of courtroom histrionics, Bible-thumping, and chest-beating, punctuated by good old gospel music, is a marvel of stagecraft, and the new production with Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer is good bet to win the Tony for Best Revival.
As the old-timey band situated on top of the bleac'ers erected for the Honorable Col. Matthew Harrison Bradyï¿½s entrance plays "There Ainï¿½t No Chimpanzee in My Family Tree," you settle down for a chuckle and a sigh. More than 80 years have passed since the Scopes "monkey trial" but the newspaper article quoted above proves the timelessness of the play.
Dennehy, as Brady, gives us an unexpectedly sympathetic portrayal of the pompous, blustering Brady, humanizing this self-appointed emissary from God and capturing simultaneously the lampoon of William Jennings Bryan from the original trial, on whom the character is based, and the deep beliefs of the religiously rigid patrons who idolize him. He makes his new interpretation work, and it is perfect.
Plummer as the feared Henry Drummond -- otherwise known as Clarence Darrow, lawyer extraordinaire -- gives a performance that, like Dennehy's, is flawless. In true adversarial spirit these two icons take over center stage, and do not yield. The court replaces the boxing ring, each "Objection" signifying the end of another legal round.
Watching the two of them banter back and forth, we know these legendary stage veterans are having a grand time, and so are we. Dennehy's re-thought characterization makes Brady's long-time friendship with Drummond more understandable, and their mutual admiration shines through their most heated discussions.
Benjamin Walker as Bert Cates gives a strong performance, but it is Maggie Lacey, who portrays Rachel, the Reverendï¿½s daughter, that tugs most at our sensibilities. This confused character is being forced to choose between her father and the man she loves, and newspaperman E. K. Hornbeck makes the choice ever so painful as he gives Rachel her first inklings that her fiancï¿½ might actually be right.
Based on the real-life H. L. Mencken, Denis O'Hare plays the famous Baltimore journalist with just the right balance of vinegar and popcorn, helping us to see the courtroom drama for the carnival it really is. O'Hare, who seems to do his best work in supporting roles, is not simply the reporter on the scene, he is the chronicler: the emcee of Hillsboro's 15 minutes of fame.
Having audience members sit onstage behind the action as participants in the proceedings is a brilliant directorial tactic that immediately draws in the audience on the other side of the stage. We are entreated to sing about God along with the banjo, guitar, and zither, and for some inexplicable reason, we do.
But we leave the theatre singing the praises of the magnificent cast and production as well, one that makes you say a final good-bye to the Drummond and Brady characters created by Spencer Tracey and Frederic March on screen. If you've never seen "Inherit the Wind," this production is the one to see, and bring your teenagers with you.
What the press had to say.....
BEN BRANTLEY of THE NEW YORK TIMES: ï¿½A revival that is just about as wooden as its set." & "Mr. Plummer has the audience eating from his hand as soon as he snaps his suspenders. " & "Never musters much more velocity than that of a drugstore fan."
JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: "Does the oft-done drama have any surprises left in it? Director Doug Hughes' thoughtful production, which opened last night at the Lyceum, proves it does. Credit belongs to Christopher Plummer, whose thrilling portrayal of defense counsel Henry Drummond is enough to make the revival a must-see. "
CLIVE BARNES of THe NEW YORK POST: "In a brashly manipulative play that pushes all the right buttons, the blustering Dennehy and the cunning Plummer pounded those buttons with unashamedly flaunting brilliance. And there is a very special fun in watching these two as trial lawyers, punching and counter-punching like elderly champions putting on a carefully calculated show, directed, almost refereed I imagine, by Doug Hughes. "
MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER: "A rip-roaring American drama based on real-life events, "Inherit the Wind" still can light up the sky like a burning barn. The trouble with the Broadway revival is somebody forgot to bring the gasoline."
ELYSA GARDNER of USA TODAY: "Luckily, this revival, which opened Thursday at the Lyceum Theatre, stars a pair of actors who could mop the sap from any chestnut...This Inherit is best seen as a vehicle for two old pros whose phenomenal talents are beyond any debate. "
LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY: "Creaky but still timely 'monkey trial' melodrama."
ERIC GRODE of the NEW YORK SUN: "The musty but surprisingly durable 1955 dramatization of the Scopes monkey trial is tailor-made for these two titans." & "Before you head over to the Lyceum Theatre, you should know that director Doug Hughes has got it all backward. Perhaps what's needed is for the two stars to dip into that time-honored theatrical gimmick of swapping roles." & "The biggest surprise in this 'Inherit the Wind' ... boasts very few surprises.
JOHN SIMON of BLOOMBERG: "An exciting courtroom combat."
MICHAEL KUCHWARA of ASSOCIATED PRESS: "It takes two larger-than-life actors to make "Inherit the Wind" really crackle, and its latest Broadway revival has come up with quite a pair ï¿½ Christopher Plummer and Brian Dennehy." & "An unabashed crowd-pleaser."
DAVID ROONEY of VARIETY: "Even without its ample contemporary parallels, Doug Hughes' dynamic production would be crackling entertainment, enlivened by the vigorous verbal sparring of two great lions of the stage, Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer."
External links to full reviews from newspapers