(This is the first installment of a production diary of Inherit the Wind. For an explanation of what this post is doing in a baseball blog, read the Inherit the Wind page.)
You are, perhaps, wondering how these things begin. Un-romantic as it may seem, it begins with a lot of standing around.
Of course, that’s just the actors. Director Mark Neels, Assistant Director Darrious Varner and their designers have been planning and researching for months. On the theoretical level, Inherit the Wind has been alive and flourishing in Mark’s head and heart for years.
But, when theory re-casts itself into reality, there is always a lot of standing around. It is Monday, April 18 and we are blocking the crowd scenes. The cast is a small army of more than 30 and most of us are present and milling about in the cafeteria.
If you are unfamiliar with the space where the Clayton Community Theatre rehearses and performs, the South Campus of Washington University was formerly a high school. The theatre is upstairs and on the first floor is the old cafeteria. When the theatre is unavailable – as it is tonight, for some reason – we rehearse downstairs in the cafeteria. A few tables and chairs artfully arranged in a cleared area mark out the essential landmarks of the set. Most of us sit in the “offstage” area waiting to enter.
Matthew Harrison Brady is arriving in town and, several at a time, the town is turning out to meet him. Every few lines, another group of townspeople comes on, so every few lines the scene halts as Mark (more traffic cop than director at this point) brings the next group on, explaining where they are going and why. Mark is very much in his element. His excitement is contagious as he brings shape to a mostly chaotic scene. Dr. Mark, I should say, as the young director is actually a PhD in history.
Inherit the Wind – speaking of history – is loosely based on the famous Scopes Monkey Trial. The play has several meaty roles, but centers around the two lawyers, Matthew Harrison Brady (the William Jennings Bryan character) and Henry Drummond (the play’s incarnation of Clarence Darrow). I have had the pleasure of working before with both of these actors and am enjoying watching these characters develop.
Mark Ables, a former board member at CCT, is Brady. Mark is enormously personable. He brings an easy smile and a natural warmth to the role. But for all his easy charm, there is an executive “air” that always attends Mark – something that suggests that he would be perfectly at home chairing executive board meetings in some corporate office somewhere. All of these aspects inform his portrayal of Brady, who was almost president three times. Brady, as portrayed by Mark Ables, is, at the same time, very presidential and warmly human.
Jim Danic plays Drummond – Brady’s antagonist. The two lawyers and actors bring opposite styles to the contest. Where Brady/Ables is fastidious, Drummond/Danic is unapologetically rumpled. Drummond/Danic roams the courtroom with a polished carelessness. Danic’s strength is his clarity. As Drummond he has little patience with fools or foolish ritual. The law in his hands bypasses useless procedures and protocols to find the essential “rightness” of the question. Danic brings an engaging combination of honesty and passion to Drummond.
The crowd scenes over, most of us are dismissed while Mark and the principals remain for further blocking. There is a long way to go, but we have started.