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Evolutionary Theater

The Very Little Theater puts its own spin on Inherit the Wind
Bill Campbell, Jessi Cotter, Steve Mandell and Chris Pinto. Photo credit: Rich Scheeland
Bill Campbell, Jessi Cotter, Steve Mandell and Chris Pinto. Photo credit: Rich Scheeland.

According to the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, 13 percent of American high school bio teachers explicitly teach creationism in the classroom. Sixty percent give evolution very little class time and 17 percent don’t even touch the subject at all, wanting to avoid the whole controversy. These statistics speak to the state of radical religious interference with education, which gives a ’50s play new relevance in the 21st century.

Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized retelling of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which high school biology teacher John Scopes is tried and convicted for teaching evolution. Vivid public figures such as William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow and H.L. Mencken took part in the trial, lending it a dramatic air that was destined to become theater. But writers Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee were interested in more than just monkeys and their descendants; the play debuted in 1955, amidst rabid McCarthyism and the authors used the trial as a vehicle to criticize McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts. “It’s not about science versus religion. It’s about the right to think,” Lawrence noted.

Chris McVay, who is clearly aware of the current relevance of the play, directs the Very Little Theatre’s production of Inherit the Wind. “The fact that the themes of science vs. religious dogma (creationism or intelligent design) and the place of individual rights in society are profoundly relevant today, nearly 60 years after this play was written, gives Inherit the Wind a contemporary universality,” McVay says. “This play is about the dignity of every individual mind, the right to think, speak and, in this case, teach ideas that may go against traditional accepted thinking and even the law.”

McVay has put together a cast that includes Chris Pinto, Bill Campbell, Zachary Twardowski, Tony Stirpe, Mike Hawkins and several other well-known performers about town. I’m interested to see the spin they put on this classic piece.

The most powerful resource any of us possess is our attention. Inherit the Wind offers a chance to turn our gaze once again to the folly of allowing fear to set any agenda, educational or political.

Inherit the Wind runs at The Very Little Theatre May 30 – June 14;$12-$17.