Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
July 13, 2012
A Shakespearean comedy, a musical satire, and a historically-inspired cautionary tale.
You’d think that a 50 year-old play based on a 90 year-old event would feel old and musty. Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee used the past to indict their own present, the McCarthy era. But “Inherit the Wind” feels ageless, set in a fear-fueled, ‘Us vs. Them ,’ Bible-thumping, jingoistic era – a time not unlike our own. The issue that energized the Scopes Trial of 1925 — Creationism vs. Evolution – is still alive and kicking.
In Dayton, Tennessee, a failing town itching for publicity, John Scopes was a high school instructor who taught Darwin’s theory, thereby violating state law. The Scopes Monkey Trial, as the media circus came to be known, brought two great legal minds head-to-head: three-time Democratic Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, a fundamentalist, against agnostic, cynical Clarence Darrow, the country’s most famous criminal defense attorney. Much of their incendiary dialogue comes directly from court record. But there’s a lot more going on, what with a hidebound preacher, his defiant daughter, and a sardonic newsman based on critic H.L. Mencken.
The Bryan character, Brady, takes some hits to make socio-political points, but the drama remains a potent, passionate defense of intellectual freedom. Centering this robust Old Globe production are two masterful performances: Adrian Sparks as the fulminating Brady, and Robert Foxworth, superbly insouciant as the relentless, sarcastic Darrow stand-in, Henry Drummond. A satisfying and thought-provoking piece of theater.
On alternating nights, the Globe presents a generally gleeful “As You like It.” Also helmed by Festival artistic director Adrian Noble, the comedy of romantic delusion is re-set between the World Wars, which provides for striking costumes. But it opens with an unnerving and unnecessary backstory, a father ripped from his family and thrown into a screeching boxcar, disturbingly reminiscent of Nazi transports. The duke was only banished, after all, not sent off to a camp. He winds up in the enchanted Forest of Arden, strangely depicted here as inhospitable and snow-blown, which isn’t very inviting but makes for stunning stage pictures. This production boasts original music and, like “Inherit the Wind,” beautiful singing, with expert musical direction by local Elan McMahan. There isn’t much new or incisive here. But the principals sparkle, especially Dana Green as gender-bending Rosalind and delightful Vivia Font as her sidekick, Celia. Overall, it’s a pleasant evening under the stars.
Also in the summer ‘escape’ mode is North Coast Repertory Theatre’s “Dames at Sea,” a feather-light spoof of 1930s Busby Berkeley musicals, written in another depressed era, the 1960s. Employing every possible musical comedy trope , the production actually has a lot in common with the Globe’s “As You Like It”: the era, the vagaries of love, the luscious harmonies – and fart jokes. But the costumes and the tap dancing are terrific, there’s live music, skilled singing and unremitting ebullience. Under the direction of Rick Simas, it’s goofy but irresistible fun.
Feverish affection or fervid legal wrangling – you be the judge.
“Inherit the Wind” and “As You Like It” run in repertory with “Richard III,” on the Old Globe’s outdoor Festival Stage, through September 30.
“Dames at Sea” has been extended through August 5, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
©2012 PAT LAUNER