Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Inherit The Wind
Second, the Matthew Brady you'll see on stage may be different from the one who played him on opening weekend. Respected actor Mark Abels (in a case of "life imitating art") suffered chest pains and other symptoms shortly before his entrance during the official opening performance, and then spent the weekend across the street at St. Mary's Hospital. Mr. Abels was replaced at the last minute by director Mark A. Neels, who also performed Saturday and Sunday as the Bible-thumping, on-stage representation of William Jennings Bryan, a three-time presidential candidate who lobbied state legislatures to ban the teaching of evolution theory in public schools.
So there was drama piled on top of the usual courtroom drama on opening night in Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's 1955 play based on the 1925 "Scopes Trial" in Dayton, Tennessee. The next night, director Neels carried a sheaf of papers in the second half of the play, though he barely glanced at them and approached the role with relish.
Playing opposite him is Jim Danek as the fictionalized version of famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow. He's quite excellent, though you may be surprised at how much he sounds like Spencer Tracy, who played the same character (Henry Drummond) in the 1960 movie. But Mr. Danek's is such a warm, avuncular performance that everything he does seems both natural and appropriate. The whole show plays like a great, spontaneous conflagration-of eminently reasonable peoplewhich, of course means that it was quite carefully plotted out by everyone involved.
The big crowd scenes are perfect: lively, intense, and even lyricaland funny in both movement and expression. Steve Garrett is fearsome as Reverend Brown, consumed with an old-time burning passion in his sermonizing. He masterfully whips up hysteria over substitute teacher Bertram Cates' in-class references to Charles Darwin's revolutionary book, "On The Origin of Species." And as Cates, Ryan Adolph is wonderfully gentle and worried throughout, while lovely Mica Tharp is shackled with anxiety as Cates' girlfriend (and the preacher's daughter, of course) Rachel.
Mary Robert is a great distaff version of H.L. Mencken, the curmudgeonly journalist who (like the two lawyers) has come in from afar to participate in the spectacle. And Aaron Mermelstein and Tom Day are perfect as the local mayor and the judge in the trial, respectively.
Through June 26, 2016 at the South Campus of Washington University (across from the Esquire Theatre) at 6501 Clayton Rd. (a block east of Big Bend Blvd.). For more information visit www.placeseveryone.org.