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Theater Review (LA): ‘Inherit the Wind’ at Grove Theatre Center

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Nearly 60 years after its premiere, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s Inherit the Wind remains as topical as ever, especially given the current political climate. A fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” trial, it features thinly-disguised caricatures of William Jennings Bryan, the barnstorming politician; Clarence Darrow, the liberal lawyer and activist; and H.L. Mencken, noted journalist and satirist.

When high school science teacher Bert Cates (Robbie Winston) is arrested for teaching evolution to his high school class in defiance of Tennessee state law, the eyes of the country turn to the small town of Hillsboro to find out who will have the stronger case in court — Darwin or God.

The political powerhouses Matthew Harrison Brady (Robert Craighead) and Henry Drummond (Mark Belnick) arrive to represent the prosecution and the defense, respectively. This causes much excitement among the religiously fervent townspeople, who welcome Brady as a hero and Drummond, whose liberalism runs counter to their beliefs, as the devil himself. There are a few who are sympathetic to more moderate views on evolution, but they are silenced by the fire and brimstone community leader, the Reverend Jeremiah Brown (Alan Inherit_the_WindBrooks). Even his daughter, Rachel  (Laurel Reese), in love with co-worker Cates, finds her loyalties tested.

Also arriving is E.K. Hornbeck (J. Richey Nash), a reporter for the Baltmore Herald, who has come to witness the spectacle and put his own sardonic spin on the proceedings. He gets his show — the trial begins with Brady proselytizing and blocking evidence as Drummond attempts to present his case against ever-increasing obstacles, not the least of which is the judge (Donald Agnelli), who clearly has Brady’s sympathies from the beginning. But Drummond manages to get the upper hand when he puts his opponent on the stand and grills him on his religious beliefs.

This production, presented by Wasatch Theatrical Ventures and Theatre Planners, is solidly mounted, with many moving parts. Director Kiff Scholl keeps everything nicely orchestrated on the Grove Theatre Center’s modest stage, no small feat with such a large cast. Adam Haas Hunter’s simple set design effectively suggests the locations in the story, aided by Michael Gend’s atmospheric lighting and Matthew Richter’s sound. Shannon A. Kennedy’s costuming appropriately evokes the period (the flamboyant Brady’s suit is particularly amusing). The show is well-paced and punctuates the jousting humor inherent in the piece.

Among the cast, Winston displays the right combination of defiance and remorse as the put-upon Bert, and Reese provides a nice complement as the conflicted Rachel. Nash’s Hornbeck is a cynical, acerbic Professor Harold Hill (and it works). Craighead’s Brady is in turns gregarious, pompous, garrulous and imperious — it’s an appropriately colorful performance. Belnick, who had an impressive legal career before returning to the stage, at first comes off a bit too subdued and world-weary as Drummond, but he rises to the occasion in the scenes when he’s excoriating Brady for his hypocrisy.

Inherit the Wind plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through March 16 at the Grove Theatre Center, 1111-B West Olive Avenue, Burbank. Reservations can be made online or by calling (323) 960-7721.

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.