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The Play-Goer: Compass Rose’s Inherit the Wind

What’s old is new again

Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized retelling of the 1925 Scopes Trials. Former friends Matthew Harrison Brady (played by Gary Goodson) and Henry Drummond (played by Andy Clemence) argue the merits of the case and whether the literal interpretation of the Bible should be the law of the land or whether people should be free to think for themselves. Also shown are Nash Tetterton as Meeker (left) and Jim Bunzli as the Judge (seated at center).
     In 1925, the so-called Scopes Monkey trial adjudicated creationism versus evolution in a battle of legal titans. John Scopes, a substitute teacher in Tennessee, had been charged with breaking a local law that banned the teaching of evolution. Allowing himself to be used as a test case, he became the subject of one of the most closely followed trials in American history, broadcast across the country by radio. The two biggest names in the legal world, former friends, took opposing sides: William Jennings Bryant, three-time presidential candidate, argued for the prosecution; Clarence Darrow, the best known defense attorney in the country, spoke for the defense. The trial attracted such attention that celebrity journalist H.L. Mencken, of the Baltimore Sun, covered it. 
     In 1955, Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee turned the story into a drama whose timelessness is renewed decade after decade. Compass Rose Theater’s production hits home hard, for it is told with passion and commitment that will make you think hard about your right to think for yourself. 
     In Inherit the Wind’s fictionalized but loyal accounting, Bryant becomes the character Matthew Harrison Brady, Darrow becomes Henry Drummond and Scopes becomes Bert Cates. Compass Rose’s finely tuned production is led by Gary Goodson as Brady, the bombastic prosecutor, with Andy Clemence as the more reasoned and thoughtful Drummond. Both actors are magnetic in their personae as well as their stage presence. Goodson’s Brady-Bryant is a stentorian rock, convinced that the literal interpretation of the Bible should be the law of the land. Goodson makes his interpretation more human when the less-sure side of Brady emerges. Then we can see why these two foes had once been friends.
     Clemence is more measured yet no less passionate in his performance as Drummond-Darrow, deftly defending his client while handcuffed by the local judge’s obvious disdain for his arguments. He is especially effective in cross examining Brady-Bryant, making points that seem logical — but that fail to convince the local jury that people should be free to think.
     Standing out among the supporting cast are Andy Ingalls as E.K. Hornbeck, the Mencken character, whose cynicism is palpable, and Daniel Prillaman as Bert Cates, the teacher on trial. Also excellent is Katherine Boothroyd as Rachel Brown, the daughter of the local preacher, a teacher and friend of Cates. Her obvious pain as she is forced to testify against him gives the audience a taste of the conflict so many must have felt — and continue to feel today.
      Director Lucinda Merry-Browne has cast exceptionally well. Goodson and Clemence engage in an intel­lectual parry and thrust so riveting and real, so visceral, that we don’t just hear their arguments, we feel them. She also keeps the story moving at a smart pace and makes very clever use of a simple two-level set, with the courtroom scenes especially effective. 
 
Fri., Sat. 8pm; Sat., Sun. 2pm thru Nov. 26 plus Thurs. Nov. 9, 7pm. Two hours with one intermission. Compass Rose Theater, Annapolis, $38 w/discounts, rsvp: www.compassrosetheater.org.
Costume designer: Renee Vergauwen. 
Stage manager: Lauren Woehrer. Lighting designer: Marianne Meadows. Props: Joann and Mike Gidos.