ANDERSON, Ind. —
Ronnie Johnstone takes on the role of opposing attorney, the famous Henry Drummond, based on Clarence Darrow. Johnstone plays the part of the smart, folksy Drummond to a tee. Drummond seeks to defend a naïve but ultimately committed Bertram Cates, based on Scopes, played by Gabriel Porch. Drummond’s premise rests on the progressive idea, if you will, that the right to think should preempt blind adherence to fundamentalist dogma. Drummond, too, is ultimately shown to be compromised in his own right, setting more value on the truth and on intellectual freedom than perhaps on his own personal religious beliefs.
The pair butt heads throughout the hearings, several times erupting into riveting, raucous arguments, moderated by a judge (Ralph Sipes) who disallows every opposition witness Drummond seeks to bring to the stand. Early on in the play, a banner proclaiming “Read Your Bible” is raised and it hovers over the stage throughout the rest of the drama.
Rachel Brown, played by Aleia Short, is torn by her love for Cates and the teachings and authoritarianism of her father, the town’s preacher Rev. Jeremiah Brown. Roland VanHorn makes the perfect Rev. Brown, dressed in his white suit from head to toe, with a dark shirt underneath. During the quintessential prayer meeting, VanHorn closes his eyes as he thunders his prayer into a crescendo while believers proclaim in a frenzy along with him. One of them, Elijah, erupts, “Tell us, are we good?”
There is not a weak performance in the cast, from the glistening tear on Rachel’s face to the innocent, barefooted testimony of young Howard, played by Silas Morton.
Anderson is privileged to have this caliber of acting in its community theater, and to be offered such a timely, provocative work as “Inherit the Wind.” It was just a few weeks ago that an Illinois teacher faced disciplinary action for informing his students of their constitutional rights. Kudos to Mainstage for presenting this compelling drama that asks more of us than to merely watch, but to exercise that freedom to think.
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