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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Inherit the Wind
Theatre Artists Studio
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The Crumple Zone and The Cake


Michael Fleck and Tom Koelbel
Photo by Mark Gluckman
Toward the end of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's 1955 drama Inherit the Wind, which is based on the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" trial that pitted God and creationism against Darwin and evolution, the lawyer for the accused states, "You don't suppose this kind of thing is ever finished, do you?" How prophetic that statement is, as in just the last year some members of the Arizona Department of Education were seriously thinking of removing the word "evolution" from the science standards that would have impacted all school children in the state. With excellent leads and sure-footed direction, Theatre Artists Studio is presenting a solid production of this classic courtroom drama that clearly is as timely today as ever.

Set in the small town of Hillsboro in 1925, the plot centers on the case against local high school teacher Bertram Cates, who has been arrested for mentioning Charles Darwin's scientific views of evolution, which Darwin wrote about in his book "Origin of the Species," to the children in his classroom. That goes against the religious laws of the land, and the trial brings two big shot lawyers to town to argue the opposing sides of the case along with a slew of reporters and onlookers.

Based on the actual trial of John T. Scopes, which brought powerhouse attorneys Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan to Dayton, Tennessee ,to argue for the opposing sides, Lawrence and Lee's fictionalized drama is tightly written without an ounce of fat. It quickly introduces the main characters and separates the two acts nicely, with act one introducing the participants and setting up the trial, and the second act highlighting the explosive court case and its aftermath. Director Judy Rollings does an exceptional job in keeping the pace brisk and the tension taut, while ensuring her actors deliver nuanced and realistic portrayals.

Studio regulars Michael Fleck and Tom Koelbel play the lawyers and they are both excellent in creating these two very different men who were once good friends but now find themselves on vastly opposite sides. Fleck is superb as the compassionate Henry Drummond, modeled on Darrow, who is a proponent of forward thinking, and Koelbel is equally good as Brady, based on Bryan, who is called "the champion of ordinary people" in the play. Fleck and Koelbel both exhibit a natural line delivery that adds to the realism of the piece and make it seem like their dialogue is organic. However, you also never doubt from their exceptional performances that both characters are incredibly intellectual and skilled masters in how to maneuver their way around a courtroom with success.

While Lawrence and Lee clearly are on the forward-thinking sides of Darwin, creation, Drummond and Cates, they also beautifully paint Brady as a man of conviction who has lost his way and is ill, which makes you care for him, even though he also comes across as a bigoted religious zealot. Koelbel is quite effective in gaining our sympathy, but in an honest way. The explosive courtroom scenes in act two find Fleck and Koelbel in perfect fighting form and it's a treat to watch these two talented actors square off on stage as this powerhouse duo.

In the supporting cast, Walt Pedano evokes the right cocky attitude as the sarcastic Baltimore Herald journalist who has come to cover the case. He also serves, somewhat, as the voice of reason and onlooker to the small-minded town, and Pedano exhibits a nice blend of straightforward level headedness and modern sensibilities. Christian Boden is appropriately confused and quiet as Cates, who is dubbed "an arrogant youth" for teaching something that goes against the Bible. As Cates' fellow school teacher Rachel, who cares for him but is confused, as she is also the daughter of the Reverend in town, Elizabeth Broeder creates a beautiful portrayal of this concerned yet also very conflicted young woman. Al Benneian is full of fire and brimstone as Rachel's devout father.

There are many supporting characters in the piece and most of the large ensemble do well in portraying the mainly stereotypical roles, though a few ensemble members occasionally broach crossing the line into caricature. Creative elements are fine, with Fleck's set design simple but effective and Marney Austin's costumes evocative of the period.

With many of our elected politicians continuing to stress the importance of God and attempting to help weave religious protections into our laws while questioning scientific evidence such as climate change, it only shows how the debate of science vs religion seems to be one that will possibly never be resolved. Inherit the Wind is a play that is still mesmerizing and fascinating in its depiction of an unorthodox and factual trial and Theatre Artists Studio's production proves a rich and rewarding theatrical experience. The title of the play comes from a biblical quote from Proverbs 11:29, "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart," words that, like the play, are still as timely as ever.

Inherit the Wind, through December 9, 2018, at Theatre Artists Studio, 4848 East Cactus Road, Scottsdale AZ. Tickets are on sale at www.TheStudioPHX.org or by calling 602-765-0120

Director: Judy Rollings
Set Design: Michael Fleck
Lighting Design: Stacey Walston
Costume Design: Marney Austin
Sound Design: Judy Rollings, Tony Robinson Prop Design: Marilyn Linde, Mark Baris

Cast:
Henry Drummond: Michael Fleck
Matthew Harrison Brady: Tom Koelbel
E.K. Hornbeck: Walt Pedano
Rachel Brown: Elizabeth Broeder
Bertram Cates: Christian Boden
Reverend Brown: Al Benneian
The Judge: Charles Sowder
Mrs. Brady: Judy Lebeau
Ensemble
(In order of appearance)
Howard, Dunlap, et al: Jacob Nichols
Melinda, Bannister, Radio Man: Anne Sanford
Meeker: Bill Mosley
Tom Davenport: Christopher Dorto
Mayor: George Cohen
Mrs. Krebs, Reuters Man: Martha Welty
Elijah: Joe Schwab
Mrs. McLain, Goodfellow: Carol Gibson
Mrs. Loomis, Photographer: Patti Hurtado


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