Inherit the Wind

Rated 4.0

Inherit the Wind is the fictionalized account of the 1925 Tennessee “Monkey Trial.” John Scopes was charged with violating state law by introducing evolution to his high-school biology students. Despite small stakes (Scopes was fined $100), the case attracted attention because two giants of the age, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, faced each other across the courtroom in a debate that pitted science vs. scripture.

This well-wrought, traditional production of Inherit the Wind by the Actor’s Theater of Sacramento highlights how current the debate remains. Galen Howard, in a perfectly earnest and nerdy portrayal of science teacher Bert Cates, embodies the urge to think for himself at the cost of social isolation. Christina Birdsall as Rachel Brown (a role shared with Debbie Carion), Cates’ love interest and the daughter of the local preacher, vibrates with the tension from conflicting pressures: to follow her heart, her head or her upbringing? The supporting cast takes on a suitable “regular folks” attitude, though they do have their version of Sacramento’s “crazy-truck-man” protester in Elijah, a true believer who peddles Bibles he can’t read. The press is all too accurately represented in Sean Morneau’s silver-tongued portrayal of E.K. Hornbeck, a self-described cynic.

But the stars are Sean Williams as Matthew Harrison Brady, the pillar of traditional religious thought, and Anthony Sava as Henry Drummond, the defender of rational thought. Both actors’ intensity carries the play beyond culture clash and into the realm of conflicting ideas. Williams personifies the resonance of old-time Chautauqua oratory, while Sava brings the sharp tongue of the contemporary intellectual (a touch of laryngitis on opening night lent even more realism to Sava’s performance).

Inherit the Wind is a timely reminder of America’s continuing struggle between rational thought and comforting belief. It’s also exactly what community theater ought to be: a well-done artistic representation of how a community works.