‘Inherit the Wind’ at American University

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A great play is sweet solace, and there’s a relief in knowing that all the love and hard work you’ve just witnessed culminated into a success. American University’s production of Inherit the Wind,  the 1955 classic written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, performing at American University’s Greenberg Theatre through tonight, is a smashing success.

as Reverend. Photo by  Murugi Thande.
Sakari Ishetiar (Reverend Jeremiah Brown). Photo by Murugi Thande.

Inherit the Wind is based on the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, in which a Tennessee high school science teacher named John T. Scopes (here Betram Cates), was convicted for teaching evolution to his high school students. Some of the characters in the play are fictional and some are based on the real Scopes trial’s participants, including the opposing attorneys Matthew Harrison Brady and Henry Drummond, based on the real Scopes trial’s opposing attorneys William Jennings Bryan and and Clarence Darrow.

Director Gail Humphries Mardirosian has assembled an outstanding cast of young and talented actors, and has cleverly added another perspective to the debate by adding a new character to the play, an all-seeing Wind (Maddy Stark), who she perches in the rafters high above the drama below and who, in the end, positions herself to emulate the scales of justice.

Samina Vieth’s set design is a skeleton of a barn, and is hauntingly lit by by Jason Arnold. Their work is poignant and evocative. Working with  Kenny Neal  (audio design), Helen Tuliene West (Electronic Sound Synthesis) and Erin Sullivan (Audio Coordinator), they all create a musical rhythm within the play that made me want to tap my toes. Costume Designer Barbara Tucker Parker does a fine job reflecting the era of the twenties. Joining them are Choreographer Ben Cunis from Synetic Theater and Conductor Ysaya Barnwell.

I found the entire cast most satisfying. Anthony Nimmo (The affable Bailiff), Erica Pierce (the coquettish Mrs Krebbs), and Mana-Symone Middlebrooks (the boisterous Mrs Loomis) all capture their small town characters well.  Diana Cummiskey is a spitfire as E.K. Hornbeck, the the feisty dame reporter, and Sakari Ishetiar’s Reverend Jeremiah Brown, deliver as potent a sermon as any evangelist ever has. Stephanie Wilson, as his daughter Rachel, was so visibly racked with nerves during her interrogation, I could almost see her knees knobbing. David Kowalski (Bertram Cates) and Patrick Cavanaugh (Thomas Davenport) gave strong supporting performances.

Tim Neil and Matt Meyers. Photo by Ryan Anderson.
Tim Neil and Matt Meyers. Photo by Ryan Anderson.

Director Humphries showed great judgment in selecting two talented actors as her leads and both deliver emotional, commanding, and multi-level performances. As the religious and stubborn Matthew Harris Brady and the folksy Henry Drummond – Matthew Meyers and Tim Neil are astounding in the courtroom. Their cross- examinations and verbal battles with each other and the judge are truly exhilarating – a real fight to the finish. Neil’s performance has a wonderfully understated Columbo-ness to it. They both fill the tiny town like a powerful tornado that had suddenly swept through town.

There was so much great talent in American University’s production of Inherit the Wind that I couldn’t help but wonder where these future stars might be performing in a few short years. Luckily you have two more chances to see this incredible cast and production today at 2 PM and 8 PM. Run and buy tickets.

Running Time: Two hours, including one intermission.

Inherit the Wind has two more performances today at 2 PM and 8 PM at American University’s Greenberg Theatre – 4200 Wisconsin Ave NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.