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Broadway's 'Wind' Gust

April 26, 2007 By:
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A true inheritance: Christopher Plummer (left) and Brian Dennehy
Give me that old-time religion, preferably packaged in a new-style suspender-snapping production such as the one on Broadway that gives "Inherit the Wind" a second -- or is it third? -- wind for theatergoers.

The scope of the infamous 1925 "Monkey Trial," in which evolution and creationism swung from different branches of judicial and judicious schisms, echoes still some 80 years later in a society that has never really been able to get this now new millennium "Monkey" off its back.

Christopher Plummer plumbs the depths of the daring dimensions of the godless Henry Drummond, a theatrical stand-in for Clarence Darrow, whose real-life defense of a Tennessee teacher accused of teaching Darwin to students was viewed as more than a Tennessee waltz away from the truth; it was a twist of ugly anger at the God-given word and world of the Bible.

Hell hath no fury like a wizard scorned -- and to the prosecutorial table comes Matthew Harrison Brady (Brian Dennehy), a three-time presidential candidate (recalling William Jennings Bryan) whose heavenly pleas haven't turned him into a president but a damn-fine defiant preacher of the "Word."

The two stately actors have a way with the words penned by playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee more than 50 years ago. But give the devil his due -- it's Plummer who smirks, storms and smashes the ageless controversy into a fistful of thunder that shakes the stage with greatness and startles it to action in a courtroom of suspenseful animation.

Not that Dennehy has the dearth of a salesman's tools to put over his God and glory gut-wrenching gristled performance -- albeit, the gut is somewhat less these days -- with his holier-than-thou (and thou and thou) thousand points of light he hopes to shine on the godless.

What remains important about this 50-year-old warhorse of a classic is that the ideological wars nag on in a gallop poll of urgency; legal wrangles and tangles bedevil both sides.

Though ostensibly written about the Scopes trial, "Inherit the Wind" wound its roundhouse punch when originally produced on Broadway for a shot in the oy of the McCarthy hearings as the playwrights let history of the '20s play out against the hysterics of the 1950s.

Is it any wonder then that "Inherit the Wind" has inherited the role of classic debunker of the moral pustules that seem to populate every generation of people with God on their side?

Whether incarnated on stage by Paul Muni (Drummond) and Ed Begley (Brady) originally, or George C. Scott and Charles Durning in a revival meeting new audiences 11 years ago -- the 1960s' film version, with notable differences from the Broadway script, starred Spencer Tracy and Fredric March -- or in the march of contenders in a variety of TV versions over the years, "Inherit" is inherently a dramatic clash of truths as treasons to one side or the other.

Most importantly, it is about thought-policing and those keyed in on uncuffing captured ideas sentenced to serve out their terms stigmatized. Playing out in the new millennium this new revival revs up the rage of unreasonable reckonings and seraphic sedition. It is here at the Lyceum Theater, where lies and truths and angels and agnostics agonize over survival of the frisson between religion and evolution, that God is in the details and the detritus. The work is directed by Doug Hughes, with one eye on hypocrisy and the other on the heavens.

"He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind," claims the proverb, "and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart."

And the wise and the wary of where fools and fanatics dare tread will find a stage full of evidence that mankind has evolved little since the "Monkey Trial" scoped out society's zigzag direction and moral myopia more than 80 years ago. 

 

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