ANDERSON, Ind. — Creationism versus evolution. That was the issue ostensibly at the crux of the 1925 Scopes trial, which found John Scopes guilty of breaking the law by teaching evolution in his Tennessee classroom.
The issue was, of course, a larger one — in essence, the freedom to think. It is that story upon which Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee loosely based their play, “Inherit the Wind,” in 1955, in response to McCarthyism.
The Anderson Mainstage Theatre masterfully brings the drama to the stage beginning tonight, provocatively posing a question that remains truly relevant in a society coping with a growing complex of conflicts driven by corporate and government ideologies at the expense of personal freedoms.
Director David Whicker has a strong cast of characters, portrayed with authority on a stage very simply set with the few accoutrements it needs to suggest the courtroom where the main action takes place. Female cast members sport the flowery dresses and hats of the ‘50s, while the men wear bowties and suspenders if not the overalls of farm workers.
The story is set in the small Southern town of Hillsboro, described by newsman E.K. Hornbeck, as “the bubble on the Bible belt.” The sardonic Hornbeck has come to Hillsboro from Baltimore to cover the proceedings. The character, based on H.L. Mencken, was perfectly cast in Andrew Persinger, who oozed the part with his almost-evil smile and spot-on, well-articulated cynicism. Dressed in the flashy suit and hat of the city, he draws out a flask from time to time as he observes courtroom proceedings.
The battle that Hornbeck is there to observe is fought on the fundamentalist side by three-time presidential candidate Matthew Harrison Brady, played by Steve Sharkey. The character of the fundamentalist orator is based on William Jennings Bryan, and Sharkey convincingly portrays Brady as an intelligent man and winning speaker who tenaciously adheres to fundamentalist views, but is ultimately forced to face his own compromise.