Thursday, September 07, 2000

'Inherit the Wind' debate fresh again

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Playhouse in the Park opens its season with a classic that's new again.

        Inherit the Wind finds its inspiration in one of the first “trials of the (20th) century,” a case from 1925 in which high school teacher John Scopes was prosecuted for challenging Tennessee's legal ban on teaching the theory of evolution in schools.

  What: Inherit the Wind.
  When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 6.
  Where: Playhouse in the Park Marx Theatre, Eden Park
  Tickets: $29-$41. Unreserved tickets are half-price day of show if purchased at the Playhouse box office between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  Also: Free preshow Playhouse Perspectives lecture 6 p.m. Sept. 17. Speaker to be announced; post-show Meet the Artist programs are scheduled for Sept. 10, 13, 24 and 28.
        In fictional form, the trial becomes a monumental courtroom battle between legal titans fundamentalist Matthew Brady (standing in for William Jennings Bryan) and civil libertarian Henry Drummond (a thinly disguised Clarence Darrow).

        While Inherit the Wind in its 1955 debut was a commentary on McCarthy era politics, the play's debates about religion vs. science, freedom of thought vs. community beliefs, and the separation of church and state has never been more timely.

        For the last year, newspaper headlines have followed new legislative battles over theories of creationism vs. evolution.

        Last year, the Kansas Board of Education voted to remove from state science curriculum and assessment tests evolution as an explanation for the origin of the species and the Big Bang theory for the creation of the universe.

        In May, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that legislation introduced in the Ohio House (by Rep. Ron Hood, R-Canfield) would require school teachers to teach the pros and cons of evolution.

        The legislation would remove the word “evolution” from science curriculum, replacing it with the phrase “change over time,” as has been used in Kentucky since 1993.

        Similar debates are taking place in Oklahoma, Idaho, West Virginia and Minnesota. Indiana is considering legislation that would put a Bible studies course among optional curricula,

        Textbooks in Alabama carry a state-mandated disclaimer saying evolution is a theory, not a fact.

        “The timing is perfect,” says Playhouse chief Ed Stern, who is directing Inherit. “What's resurfacing in Alabama and Kansas, and the fact that it's the 75th anniversary of the Scopes trial — that made for an interesting coincidence to explore.”

        What made the choice irresistible is that Mr. Stern considers the Scopes trial “one of the transforming events of the 20th century.”

        With a cast of 46, Inherit the Wind is the largest ensemble drama on the Playhouse stage in a decade.

        Leading the company will be Playhouse favorites Joneal Joplin (best known as Ebenezer Scrooge for the last three years) as Brady and Philip Pleasants (Barrymore, The Woman in Black) as Drummond. This will be the first time on stage together for the Playhouse veterans.

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