At a time when book banning has reared its head again in our country and people seem to be more divided than ever, Pasadena Playhouse brings us a stirring production of “Inherit The Wind” featuring powerhouse performances from Alfred Molina and John Douglas Thompson.
Written in 1955 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, this courtroom drama is based on the famous 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial” that saw a small Southern town whipped into a frenzy over an elementary school teacher who taught a lesson on the theory of evolution. With powerfully relevant themes of free speech, independent thought, group think, democracy and tolerance, this piece, boldly directed by Michael Michetti is disturbing and thought-provoking.
The Playhouse has reconfigured the seats so that many audience members are seated on stage and just off the front of the stage as though they are part of the jury and the gallery of the court. Although I was not seated on the stage, I thought it was a brilliant choice that brought the whole audience into the well of the court and the intense heart of the action.
Hillsboro is a deeply Christian community that finds itself in an uproar leading up to and during the trial of Bert Cates, the young schoolteacher who is in jail awaiting trial for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in his classroom. Seemingly his only friend and supporter in town is his colleague and girlfriend, Rachel Brown, who is also the daughter of the local preacher. The play takes us through the days leading up to the trial and the entire trial itself, where we see neighbors pitted against one another in a fight for what each believes is morally right.
The reason to see this play primarily is the performance of the two leads. Both powerhouses who bring incredible nuance and depth to the proceedings. Molina as the sagacious and rumpled defense attorney, Henry Drummond, is the perfect blend of cynicism, brilliance, frustration and compassion that the role demands. His crucial cross-examination of the Bible-thumping prosecutor, Matthew Harrison Brady, is perfectly precise in its passion, fire, and logic.
Thompson goes toe to toe with Molina, and is thrilling to watch. He beautifully captures the pathos beneath the character’s fire and brimstone, making a reveal late in the second act fascinating and painful to watch.
The rest of the cast is committed, from Chris Perfetti as the witty observer/chorus journalist, E.K. Hornbeck to the raw, emotional performance of Rachel Hilsen as Cates’ girlfriend, Rachel. Abubakr Ali is earnest as Cates and David Aaron Baker is chilling as Rachel’s father, Reverand Brown.
The production is decidedly modern and fresh. The diverse casting is inspired however, I didn’t love the “rehearsal” costumes and set pieces. For me, it took me out of the reality of the story. The actual storytelling is strong enough to keep you interested and thinking, with the unpleasant realization that this 1925 story could very easily be taking place in our country today.
Inherit The Wind runs through December 3, 2023 at Pasadena Playhouse.
Tickets and information for Inherit the Wind are available at pasadenaplayhouse.org, by phone at 626-356-7529, and at the box office at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101.