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Incendiary performances by Hagerstown, MD actor David Dossey as self-righteous special prosecutor Matthew Harrison Brady and Raleigh actor David Henderson as abrasive defense attorney Henry Drummond ignite Burning Coal Theatre Company’s high-octane presentation of the explosive 1955 courtroom drama Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Indeed, Burning Coal artistic director Jerome Davis has assembled a most impressive ensemble for the small Raleigh, NC-based professional theater’s inaugural production in its handsome new home in the historic Murphey School Auditorium.
This timely topical drama, which is a fictional version of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, takes its title from a Bible verse, Proverbs 11:29, which in the King James Version reads, “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.” Indeed, the no-holds-barred combat between Creationists and Evolutionists continues to this very day, with considerable collateral damage to confused schoolchildren who think that the principles of science must pass some biblical litmus test or that the scientific method can be applied to the basic tenets of the Christian faith. Oy vey!
Inherit the Wind unfolds on a succession of scorching July days in a sweltering small-town Tennessee courtroom, where former friends-turned-adversaries Brady and Drummond roar like angry lions eyeing the last piece of meat between them and starvation. Matthew Brady, who is a three-time presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, hopes that victory in this important case in this obscure venue will bounce him back onto the national stage. His erstwhile friend Henry Drummond has more modest ambitions: he just hopes to keep the court from unjustly imprisoning and fining the bejesus out of his client, upstart schoolteacher Bertram T. Cates (Stephen LeTrent), who deliberately defied Tennessee state law by teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in a science class.
Thanks to the caustic commentary of cynical journalist E.K. Hornbeck (Holden Hansen), whose Baltimore newspaper hired Drummond for the defense and dispatched Hornbeck to cover the trial, the Cates Monkey Trial becomes a national sensation; and the Rev. Jeremiah Brown (Bob Galbraith) and his daughter Rachel (Jenn Suchanec), who teaches and is in love with Cates, must air their father-daughter disagreements publicly, for a national audience.
David Dossey is an irresistible force of nature as Brady, and David Henderson is his nemesis — an immovable object — as Drummond. Their courtroom confrontations are truly titanic — and wonderfully theatrical. Meanwhile, Stephen LeTrent makes Cates an engaging if somewhat lightweight character, and Jenn Suchanec gives a passionate performance as poor Rachel Brown, whipsawed between the impossible demands of her scripture-spouting father (played with true fire by Bob Galbraith) that she denounce the man she loves, and testify against him in court, and her love for and loyalty to Cates.
Holden Hansen positively slithers around the Murphey School Auditorium stage as Hornbeck, putting sinful thoughts into the minds of all in earshot. George Jack is a bit too mild in manner and jovial in disposition as the corrupt Judge, who openly colludes with the prosecution to rig the proceedings against Cates. But Laura Jenkins adds a fervent cameo as a concerned Mrs. Brady, who rightly fears that her husband’s gargantuan appetites will ultimately be his undoing; and Fred Corlett as the Mayor, Al Singer as local prosecutor Tom Davenport; Ian Finley as Meeker the bailiff, and John Honeycutt as Mr. Goodfellow the haberdasher make the most of their supporting roles.
Director Jerome Davis imaginatively and resourcefully exploits every inch of the Murphey School Auditorium to restage this landmark chapter in American history in grand style; and he deftly orchestrates the action, repeatedly bringing this cauldron of powerful emotions to a boil, but never letting it boil over. The simple but highly mutable set by scenic designer Vicki R. Davis, the artful illumination of the proceedings by lighting designer Matthew Adelson, and the handsome 1920s outfits recreated by costume designer Johannah Maynard all add notes of authenticity to Burning Coal’s rousing rendition of Inherit the Wind and help make this 1955 Broadway bombshell as provocative today as it was 52 years ago, long before the current oxymoron Creation Science was ever coined.
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents Inherit the Wind Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 7-9 and 14-16, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 10 and 17, at 2 p.m. in the Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $18 ($14 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except $10 for Jan. 31st preview, pay-what-you-can performance on Feb. 10th, and $5 Student Rush Tickets (available 5 minutes before show time). 919/834-4001 or via etix @ the presenter's site. Note: Arts Access, Inc., will audio-describe the 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9th performance. Burning Coal Theatre Company: http://www.burningcoal.org/ Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmyKfuS_sjo [inactive 8/08]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=4722. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053946/.