FOND DU LAC, Wis. (WFRV) – It’s getting on toward 100 years since the trial and toward 70 years since the arrival of the play, and the scenario still packs heat.

The war of words of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” and “Inherit the Wind” resonate and fascinate.

Look around in life today, and the words may be different but the tune is the same.

In his program notes, director Christopher Flieller explains why he chose “Inherit the Wind” as a UWO/Fond du Lac Theatre presentation with a campus and community cast: “…(T)o comment on renewed efforts that promote the suppression of independent thought at every level of our educational system. I don’t ask that you choose sides; to me the play is not about right or wrong, good or evil, or even Darwin versus the Bible. My hope is that you come away thinking about the right to think.”

The production is notable for its spirit, particularly in marvelous performances by community players who are steeped in experience.

The power of “Inherit the Wind” comes in layers.

The courtroom drama is based on a real case put on in a circus-like setting in 1925 but more importantly is historical. The case pitted strict biblical interpretation versus science, with law as a kind of moderator. It pitted celebrity figures as opposing attorneys, with a journalist/literary lion (hated by some) on the sidelines creating the indelible label: “Monkey Trial.”

In part for how it deals with reason, the case emerged as a play in 1955 during the era of Red-baiting by Wisconsin Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy.

The play is tricky to put on. Scenes around the Tennessee town take place in the viewer’s mind. In the courtroom, most of the roles are not walk-ons but be-theres; the performers have to be there on stage staying in character and performing even though the focal point is the push and shove of testimony. It takes a powerful play to inspire that amount of commitment by many in roles that are thankless on one hand but essential in creating an aura on the other.

Extraordinary levels of commitment go into setting up the critical scenes when the two larger-than-life attorneys have at it like heavyweight boxers in a title bout. The power of “Inherit the Wind” rises to full force in the dynamic performances of David Neese as defense attorney Henry Drummond (adapted from the real-life Clarence Darrow) and Gordon Leech as prosecuting attorney Matthew Harrison Brady (adapted from the real-life William Jennings Bryan).

Fur flies furiously as Brady thumps the Bible and Drummond gets thumped by Tennessee law as he defends schoolteacher Bertram Cates, adapted from the real-life John Scopes (finely played by student Myles Hensel), who is on trial for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. David Neese and Gordon Leech dig into the attack modes of their roles and unleash volumes of heat, often volubly. Meaty lines are delivered intensely.

On the mark in other key roles are Douglas Bord-Pire as acerbic and condescending E.K. Hornbeck (adapted from the real-life H.L. Mencken), Chris Flieller as the Judge, who tries to remain steady in this rock-the-boat case, and Cheyenne Tipton as Rachel Brown, whose affection for the schoolteacher creates dilemmas for her with her fiery fundamentalist father, the Rev. Brown (Bernard Starzewski, in a fantastic, stem-winding, fire-and-brimstone recounting of the seven-day creation of Earth).

Many other performers add interesting tidbits in the public and courtroom scenes as townsfolk figures and visitors.

The play is filled with juicy quotes. Here are three of my choice:

One relates to the title. It is from Proverbs of the Bible: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” Toward the end of the play, defense attorney Henry Drummond completes it: “and the fool shall be servant to the wise in heart.”

Another is from E.K. Hornbeck, the abrasive news guy from Baltimore, who speaks the foreshadowing line: “You don’t think this stuff is finished, do you?”

And E.K. Hornbeck speaks for me: “I am not a reporter, I am a critic.”

***

Running time: Two hours, eight minutes

Remaining performance: 4 p.m. today, April 30

Creative: Playwrights: Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee; director – Christopher Flieller; assistant director – Mason Kind; costume design – Cheryl DuBrava; lighting design – Andy Brault; stage manager – Allison Brunet

Cast:

+ Matthew Harrison Brady (representing William Jennings Bryan) – Gordon Leech

+ Henry Drummond (representing Clarence Darrow) – David Neese

+ E.K. Hornbeck (representing H.L. Mencken) – Douglas Bord-Pire

+ Bert Cates (representing defendant John Thomas Scopes) – Myles Hensel

+ Judge – Chris Flieller

+ Reverend Brown – Bernard Starzewski

+ Rachel Brown – Cheyenne Tipton

+ Tom Davenport (assisting Brady) – Ceryck Krenke

+ Mayor – Cheryl DuBrava

+ Mrs. Brady – Christine Reeves

+ Mrs. Blaire/London Reporter – Preslie Wondra

+ Siller – Mason Kind

+ Harriet – Katie Ziegler

+ Elijah/Bannister – Andy Brault

+ Mrs. Krebs – MaryBeth Cole

+ Melinda/Ensemble – Kenney Cornell

+ Timmy – Kayla Kind

+ Meeker – Jimmy Miller

+ Goodfellow/Radio Man – Robert Christopher Reeves

+ Jurors – Ellie Baierl, Steffani Bairl, Joe Baranek, Andy Brault, Mason Kind, John Nonestied, Stanislav Troicke, Escha Wruck

***

THE VENUE: Prairie Theater is a 340-seat theater in University Center of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fond du Lac Campus. Distinctive trait for audience members: Especially spacious seating area, with much leg room. The performance space is wide, with a proscenium (flat-front) with a dark stage curtain and slightly bowed space of approximately 12 feet reaching toward the audience. The performance space is approximately four feet above the seating area. The seats are of rose taupe fabric with a geometric pattern, with the backs being plastic and the arms wood. The floor is poured cement, with four aisles carpeted. The ceiling is a configuration of dark, rectangular acoustical clouds. The side walls feature tan quarried stone in approximately 15-inch squares for the first 12 or so feet up, leading to six wooden rectangles and three large, tan areas above that framed in wood. Behind the side walls are ramped hallways that lead to alcoves on either side of the main seating area that look like porches, including metal railings and two seats. On the alcove walls are more large tiles that look to be for acoustical purposes. The theater is lighted dimly. Outside the theater is a large commons area that is part of the University Center building.