‘Inherit the Wind,” the classic play opening tonight at the Springer Opera House is not a history lesson about the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial,” director Ron Anderson said.
The play is based on the true story of John Scopes, a 24-year-old high school science teacher in Dayton, Tenn., who was put on trial for teaching evolution, while the most of community believed in creationism.
Four characters in the play — Bertram T. Cates, Matthew Harrison Brady, Henry Drummond and E.K. Hornbeck — are based on real people — Scopes, prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, defense attorney Clarence Darrow and journalist H.L. Mencken, respectfully. All of the others in the play are fictional, and that’s one reason why Anderson said it’s not a history lesson.
In fact, actor Adam Archer said, the people who live in Dayton detest the play and every year present a different version called, “Inherit the Truth.” Archer plays Elijah in the Springer production.
Why did Springer choose this play?
“Because of its timeliness,” Anderson said. People, especially in the South, continue to debate creationism vs. evolution.
“And I think it is a wonderful play,” Anderson said. “This is a great courtroom drama. And there’s the debate between evolution and the Bible.”
Two powerful voices
Steve Valentini plays Brady, the prosecutor, and John Ammerman plays Drummond, the defense attorney. When the actors get on stage to go head-to-head with each other, Anderson said they definitely do not need microphones to be heard.
Archer, who wrote a study guide for the play, said Bryan was known for his booming voice, which Valentini has.
Valentini didn’t have the chance to do the play in 1970 or 1992 at the Springer. He was too young in 1970 and was not available in 1992.
“When they announced the season, I went to them and told them, ‘I want to do that show,’” Valentini said.
“It was not difficult to hear Steve’s voice” in that role, Anderson said.
Anderson had to think about who would play Drummond.
“John was here to see ‘Red, White and Tuna,’” Anderson said. They talked about the role, and Anderson said he jumped at the chance to work with Ammerman again.
“Inherit the Wind” was a play Ammerman said he definitely wanted to do. The opportunity never came up until now.
“Some plays, you hope you have a chance to do,” he said. “The opportunity all worked out. It is a classic American play and one that I hoped I could do. I just got lucky.”
Anderson said it was the Springer who got lucky to have Ammerman here.
Valentini said the play is timely because 2009 was the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his “On the Origin of Species.”
Jens Rasmussen, who plays journalist E.K. Hornbeck, had never performed this play, either.
“This role is perfect for me, so I’m glad I’m doing it. Hornbeck (H.L. Mencken) is a great historic figure” he said.
Center of the debate
Cates, played by Russ Yoe, is at the center of the play.
“This is the biggest role yet for me,” Yoe said. “It’s very exciting to be a part of it.”
Anderson said he had several actors he was considering for the roles of Cates and Rachel, who is his fiancee.
“With Russ and Melissa (Saint-Amand), I had the right combination of chemistry and innocence,” Anderson said. “They seemed to be perfect.”
Yoe is a 19-year-old Columbus State University theater major; Saint-Amand is a Columbus High School junior.
Rachel is the local preacher’s daughter who supports Cates through the trial. During the real trial, Scopes did not have a fiancee at his side.
Tim Wilson, the associate pastor of Wynnbrook Baptist Church, plays Rachel’s father. It’s his first time on the Springer stage.
“It’s intimidating and exciting,” Wilson said. While it was easy memorizing his lines, he said he is finding that playing a mean-spirited person was very difficult.
The two youngest actors
Joey Goldman and Callie Hampton are Columbus High freshmen.
Joey, a former Springer Theater Academy student, spent the last year in Los Angeles trying to kick-start a professional acting career.
“Everyone has been welcoming me back,” he said.
Callie and Joey essentially open the show, discussing the possibility that their families were once worms or blobs of jelly.
With the addition of academy students, Anderson, who heads up the theater program, is hoping youngsters will come see the play.
“It’s touching and quite thought-provoking,” he said. “It’s very theatrical and raises the issue of people having the freedom of thought or is there?”