April 26, 2007

Closed Case Back in Session

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Playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee did not aim for a perfect representation of the 1925 Scopes trial in Inherit the Wind — character and town names differ from those recorded in textbooks, as the dialogue does from court documents.
However, the debate at the core of the play, that between evolution and creationism — the freedom of thought — was meant to speak out on an issue in the 1950s, McCarthyism.
The 1925 Scopes trial in the current Schwartz Center reincarnation of Inherit the Wind now echoes in today’s world.
“There’s a timelessness to Inherit the Wind that unsettles everyone; the argument at the core of the play, that about the freedom of thought, still resonates today,” said Prof. Beth Milles, theater.
Barrie Kreinik ’07, a cast member of Inherit the Wind, believes that it’s appalling that the argument between creationism and evolution still exists. As evidence that the debate still rages, Kreinik referenced recent covers of both Time Magazine and The New York Times magazine. The cover headlines of these two magazines read “Why we should teach the Bible in public school (but very, very carefully)” and “Why do we believe,” respectively.
The debate on freedom of thought braches into another theme in the play — the power of community, according to Milles.
“In the beginning of the play, the community seems to have one mind, one thought. But as the play evolves, the discovery that there are many points of view within the community is made,” Milles said.
Kreinik’s character, Rachel, is the daughter of the minister in Hillsboro, Tenn., the fictionalized version of Dayton, Tenn. She’s also the secret girlfriend of Burt Cates. Rachel’s father and Cates stand on polar ends of the creationism debate; Rachel is torn between the two.
“Her central conflict is between her duty to her father and her faith and her lust for Burt,” Kreinik said.
Over the course of the play, Rachel undergoes a transformation in regard to her thoughts on creationism and evolution, according to Kreinik.
Kreinik said that the character of Rachel is the hardest she has ever had to play: “I’ve never played anyone with a belief system so opposed to my own.”
Like Milles, J.G. Hertzler, who plays Henry Drummond, the fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow, believes the Scopes trial, and by extension, Inherit the Wind is about “the right of human beings to think.”
“Intelligent design says that if we can’t figure it out, it must be God; intelligent design says that life is so complex that there is no hope for mankind in understanding it,” Hertzler said.
Hertzler used his experience playing football at Bucknell as a springboard to talk about the effect Inherit the Wind’s argument will have on the audience.
“In a sporting event, the diehard fans support their side against all odds; there’s a huge emotional investment in winning,” Hertzler said. “In Inherit the Wind, the argument is between creationism and science. People will come into the show on one side or the other and have a great hope that their side will win.”
According to Hertlzer, the “true believers” of past audiences have shouted “Halleljauh,” “Testify” and “Amen” at emotional highpoints in Inherit the Wind.
“They’re so connected to the issue being debated that they are moved to speak,” Hertlzer said.
Hertlzer went on to say that the two lawyers in the play — Drummond and Matthew Harrison Bradly, the fictionalized William Jennings Bryant — engage in a game; they try to outfox each other.
Hertlzer played General Martok on the TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Martok, a Klingon from the fictional planet Qo’noS, shares similarities with Darrow.
“Martok began his life in the Alpha Quadrant, a big starship. He was a janitor — he wasn’t in the military and he was poor. But, he was given military commission for his acts of bravery and he rose through the ranks to become the chancellor of the Klingon empire,” Hertzler said.
According to Hertzler, a passion for the common man connects Martok and Darrow: “Clarence Darrow said ‘lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for,’ and, even though he could’ve been the richest lawyer in the world, just managed to hold house and home together.”
Darrow would be asked why he spent his time working on causes for free, said Hertzler. And, he would respond, Hertzler said, that by helping people, he bought himself a little bit of relief from the pain of humanity.
“We make a living by what we get and a life by what we give — Darrow also said that,” Hertzler said. “And in that way, he’s like Martok. He’s not into self-aggrandizement or great glory.”
Hertlzer, whose father was a colonel in the Air Force and whose mother was a high school teacher, has found parallels in his own life to Martok and Darrow.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, and I always approached life as a worker, not an owner, as a have-not, not a have,” Hertzler said.
Darrow, as well as Bryant, was considered a major personality of the time of the Scopes Trial, according to Milles. Their celebrity status turned the Scopes Trial into a spectacle; this was intensified with people outside the courtroom “selling hotdogs and souvenirs.”
According to Kreinik, the set for Inherit the Wind — two levels of wooden scaffolding and on-stage wings — enhances the sense of the courtroom as a spectacle.
“The audience gets a heightened sense of theatricality because they can see everything on stage is an allusion,” Kreinik said. “This fits in with the fact that the trial itself is theatric.”
In fact, in the beginning of the play, according to Kreinik, one character says “I heard this is going to be quite a show.”
“People who watch Law and Order will like this,” Kreinik said. “We love courtroom dramas in this country.”
Inherit the Wind will be performed at the Schwartz Center at 8 p.m. on April 26 – 28 and May 3 – 5. There will be one matinee show on May 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8 for students and seniors and $10 for the general public.