Can a cast of college students breathe new life into an old play? Definitely.
The Mask & Bauble Dramatic Society proves this point with Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s play “Inherit the Wind,” opening this week on Thursday.
Written in the 1950s, the play is a fictional recreation of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, where legal giants Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan faced off in a small Tennessee courtroom to determine the legality of teaching human evolution in a state-funded classroom.
The play is an allegory for McCarthyism, acting as a rebuttal to the era’s anti-communist persecutions. The performance imitates some of the trial’s actual events and discusses the inherent conflict between science and religion, placing special emphasis on the role of freedom of speech and thought.
In “Inherit the Wind,” the right to think is on the chopping block in sweltering Hillsboro, Tenn., with the town’s courtroom bustling with local citizens and national reporters for one of the most controversial and high-profile trials of its time.
School teacher Bertram Cates, played by Matt Beshke (COL ’18), has been arrested and is on trial for violating a state law by teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution to his students. Conservative locals are anxious to convict Cates, while intellectuals in other parts of the country want the law overturned.
At the center of the trial are old friends turned adversaries, prosecutor Matthew Harrison Brady, a Bible Belt fundamentalist and three-time presidential candidate played by Peter Fanone (COL ’15), and defense attorney Henry Drummond, a religious agnostic and civil libertarian played by Matt Grisier (COL ’16). The stage is set for the heated showdown between evolutionary theory and divine creation, church and state, and the right to free speech and the role of education.
Student Director Will Redmond (COL ’15) takes on this formidable battle in his debut main stage production. His honest vision and delivery of the gritty trial scene hammers home the fundamental conflict in the play.
“It’s about being willing to engage in conversation, which I think is really important in a college setting, particularly at a Jesuit university,” Redmond said. “This play is about being able to share ideas. It’s about the importance of a community coming together to talk about ideas and people be open to them.”
“Inherit the Wind” retains its relevance, and the subject seems as meaningful as ever.
“The show is another example of how quickly group thinking can take over and how [we] quickly become unwilling to consider new ideas. It’s something we constantly face in America, and we’re going to continue to face it.We saw it with Ferguson and gay rights,” Fanone said.
Redmond, Producer Audrey Denis (SFS ’15) and the casting team made an innovative decision to cast the sassy character of E.K. Hornbeck, originally a male newspaper columnist for The Baltimore Herald, as a female. Claire Derriennic (COL ’17) rises to the occasion, embodying Hornbeck’s cynical swagger with gusto. This decision engages with issues of women in political positions of power today and renders the play even more relevant to current societal issues.
Surprisingly, Katie Rosenberg (COL ’15), who plays Bert Cates’ love interest Rachel Brown, cites the opening stage directions of the show as the most insightful part of “Inherit the Wind.” The directions state that the play should not be taken solely as a historical account, and it is therefore not restricted to any one corresponding time period.
“It’s a parable of this world that could happen at any time and even to us here at Georgetown. It’s about the questions we ask and what we choose to believe. How to navigate believing in a certain religion and thinking for yourself is crucial,” Rosenberg said.
“Inherit the Wind” boasts a 17-person cast and 36-person production team, the largest Mask & Bauble has juggled in years, as well as a stage that runs almost the entire length of Poulton Hall Stage 3.
Despite the fact that many production team members were new to their roles, both Redmond and Denis attest to the surprisingly seamless journey of taking the play from casting to show week.
“Incorporating students into these new roles has allowed them to grow, which is exactly what we’re trying to do with this. It’s student theatre; we want people to learn things and come away as part of a community,” Denis said.
By no means is “Inherit the Wind” a warm and fuzzy play, nor is it a short production. Be prepared to engage and ponder the hard-hitting matter of creationist ideology. With that said, the tongue and cheek humor and dynamo energy make the serious nature of the play more digestible. Mask & Bauble successfully tackles the nuances and antique nature of the play while putting its own stamp on the production.
The story reminds us that issues debated decades ago — science versus religion, the control of education in the United States and the freedom to think — are still as relevant today as they were then. “Inherit the Wind” will be performed Thursday to Saturday, Oct. 16 to 18 at 8 p.m., Sunday Oct.19 at 2 p.m. and Wednesday to Saturday, Oct. 22 to 25 at 8 p.m. in Poulton Hall.