Two Powerful Actors In Epic Battle Of “Inherit The Wind” At Insight

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Alan Knoll as Matthew Brady and Susie Wall as Mrs. Brady in “Inherit The Wind” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

As current as any of today’s headlines during this election year, “Inherit the Wind” pits religion versus science based on the Scope’s Monkey Trial. In that famous trial, Clarence Darrow battled William Jennings Bryan for the right of a teacher to use Darwin’s “Origin Of The Species” in a classroom- supposedly mocking the teachings in the Bible.

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee wrote “Inherit The Wind” to use that trial to help expose the tyranny of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his infamous Communist Witch Hunt in the 1950’s. As we see once again, the play is relevant to almost any era. In the play a young teacher is put on trial in a small Southern town and the infamous Matthew Harrison Brady comes to town to defend the Bible against this heathen. But the equally celebrated Henry Drummond takes up his cause and resorts to using the teachings of the Bible against his esteemed opponent to attempt to exonerate his young charge.

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John Contini as Drummond, contemplates the Bible versus Darwin in the Insight Theatre Company production of “Inherit The Wind.” Photo: John Lamb

As the powerful Brady, Alan Knoll oozes Southern charm to drawl his way through Bible thumping tirades. He commands the role with the mastery of the stage veteran he is. Matching him stride for stride is the incomparable John Contini as Henry Drummond. He also uses a certain country charm to outmaneuver Brady until the courtroom battle erupts in tragedy. These two powerhouses of the local stage just own this show. In this large cast, they simply dominate the proceedings.

John’s real life son, Jason Contini plays the persistent newspaper reporter sent to cover this historic case. He is a real observer for the audience as he reacts to the case and both men involved with a slightly jaundiced yet perceptive eye to the truths that are at stake. Pete Winfrey and Sigrid Wise are a delightful pair as the teacher and his girlfriend. The unfortunate thing for them is that her father is the local minister- a role played with relish as well as hell-fire-and-brimstone by Michael Brightman. Susie Wall is also wonderful as Matthew Brady’s wife.

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Sigrid Wise, Pete Winfrey and John Contini in “Inherit The Wind” at Insight. Photo: John Lamb

The rest of the large cast is well represented by some local favorites as well as a few names I didn’t recognize but they all do a credible job, some playing multiple roles. There seemed to be a few sound problems on opening night, the most glaring being with the rather soft-spoken judge who was always drowned out by his own gavel-banging. This hardly mattered as the play’s the thing and this one is a can’t miss favorite.

Director Sydnie Grosberg Ronga handled the large cast well as she moved them on and off in groups several times across the wings jutting out through the audience. The on stage action is tense and she brought the dramatic tension out with a masterful touch. Kyra Bishop designed the almost laid back but quite efficient set which made good use of just a few scene changes. Sean Savoie’s lights added to the mood and Tracey Newcomb-Margave costumed the show appropriately.

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Rivals Alan Knoll and John Contini as Brady and Drummond in the Insight production of “Inherit The Wind.” Photo: John Lamb

It is always a treat to revisit a classic like “Inherit The Wind.” It’s a provocative reminder of no matter how things change, they always remain the same. With today’s penchant for ignoring the separation of church and state and substituting beliefs for fact is still prevalent and will always be with us. That’s why religion and politics are always hot buttons and all we can do is try to let cooler heads prevail as we just try to get along. Insight Theatre Company will present “Inherit The Wind” through August 28th. Give them a call at 314-556-1293 for tickets or more information. Go for the classic play and to see two stellar actors do their thing.

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