When Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan squared off in a Tennessee courtroom back in 1925, they probably never imagined their verbal confrontation would be repeated on stage in front of theater lovers nearly a century later.
Since 1955, however, 30 years after two of America’s biggest personalities battled over evolution being taught in school, the story has continued to resonate with Americans both on stage and film.
Friday night at Proctors’ Fenimore Gallery and running through Nov. 10, the Classic Theater Guild will offer its version of the Scopes Monkey Trial with a production of Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee’s courtroom drama “Inherit the Wind.”
Darrow was a highly celebrated defense attorney and Bryan a four-time presidential candidate, but for their theater adaptation of the story the two playwrights created fictional characters; Darrow became Henry Drummond and Bryan became Matthew Harrison Brady.
Some of the stage and screen’s biggest names have played these two characters, mostly notably Spencer Tracy and Frederic March in the film version. In the Classic Theater Guild production, directed by Glenn Read, Drummond is portrayed by Tracy Trimm of Chatham and Brady is Troy’s George Filieau.
“We didn’t have anybody in mind when we scheduled this play, but I can tell you I was very happy that Tracy Trimm and George Filieau came to the auditions,” said Read.
“I didn’t know them, but I had heard about them from other people. They came highly recommended, so I was thrilled and I feel very fortunate that they were able to do the show with us. These are two very big roles.”
In Drummond, Trimm is playing the much more sympathetic character of the two. Both, however, are equally important to the success of the show.
On stage at Proctors
'Inherit the Wind'
WHERE: Fenimore Gallery, Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens 7:30 p.m. Friday and runs through Nov. 10; performance times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $18.50-$15.50
MORE INFO: 346-6204
‘Next Act! New Play Summit 2’
WHERE: GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady, and Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: Saturday through Monday (check websites for schedule)
HOW MUCH: $15-$10 per day; $30-$21 for all three days
MORE INFO: 445-7469 or capitalrep.org/proctors.org
“They are opposites, the yin and the yang,” Trimm said. “They both have to be there to make the drama work. They are equal parts, even though I agree more with Drummond philosophically. But they both are terrific parts and wonderful characters.”
“It’s a great show, but at first I initially thought of that character [Brady] as being somewhat two-dimensional, so there was a little bit of hesitation on my part,” said Filieau. “He was also completely wrong, but still, you don’t want to turn down that big a role. They’re both magnificent characters.”
The Classic Theater Guild was created 10 years ago, and during its initial season the group mounted a production of “Inherit the Wind,” with Read playing Drummond.
“I just thought it’d be fun to sit back and see what I got,” Read said of his decision to serve as director of this production. “There was some pressure, especially with these two roles, but now I’m very excited with these two men. It’s been great watching them prepare for the show.”
“Inherit the Wind” made its Broadway debut in April of 1955 and ran for two years, winning three of the four Tonys for which it was nominated. Paul Muni as Darrow and Ed Begley as Brady shared the stage for that production, and then in 1960 Hollywood produced one of its most enduring films ever with Tracy and March in the principal roles. Tracy earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal, while March was overlooked. Tracy won two Oscars and was nominated nine times as Best Actor, while March is the only actor to have won two Oscars and two Tonys.
“Ever since I saw the movie I’ve wanted to do both parts,” said Trimm, who has also performed as Brady on stage. “Those guys were wonderful, but I am making sure that I don’t watch the movie. I don’t want to do an impression of Spencer Tracy. I want to do it so it seems right to me and the director.”
Filieau is also avoiding the temptation to look at the film, directed by Stanley Kramer.
“I told people it was typecasting,” joked Filieau. “They wanted a loud-mouth, large man who likes food. Obviously you can’t put Frederic March out of your mind totally, but for me the character is on the page. I think Tracy feels the same way. We are determined to create our own character and that is the real joy that comes with acting. You can certainly admire the work of others before you, but what we’re doing is creating new, different characters.”
Also in the production are David Allenger as Cates, Kat Broadus as Rachel and Jesse Braverman as E.K. Hornbeck.
From timeless to new
While the Classic Theater Guild has fun with a timeless classic, Capital Repertory Theatre and Proctors will be hosting “Next Act! New Play Summit 2.”
A celebration of three brand-new works selected from more than 250 submissions, “Next Act!” will include workshops as well as readings from the winning plays.
“It’s wonderful to know that there are so many talented writers who want to write for theater,” said Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, artistic director at Capital Rep.
“We were particularly drawn to works that dealt with issues that arise from our technological world; both comedies and dramas. This year’s submissions were really a microcosm of what’s going on in our culture right now. It was tough to choose the top three, but we hope that Capital Region audiences will enjoy the selections and have fun meeting the creative artists who invent these stories that reflect our society today.”
The three winning plays selected were “Pacific,” by Hope Villanueva, “How Water Behaves,” by Sherry Kramer, and “The Thing About Time,” a musical by Jake Holmes and David Buskin.
“Pacific” tells the story of six individuals from across the world who form a connection in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami that rocked Japan’s nuclear power plants. The reading will take place Saturday at 7 p.m. at the GE Theatre at Proctors.
“How Water Behaves” chronicles the woes of a young unemployed couple and will be read at 4 p.m. Sunday in the GE Theatre, while “The Thing About Time,” the story of a reunion between friends who honor a former comrade who died in Vietnam, will be read at 7 p.m. Monday at Capital Rep.
Along with the play readings, workshops on play development and other aspects of writing will be held on Saturday and Sunday at Proctors.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]