Tennessee Repertory Theatre opens its 2004-05 season with Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, the dramatized version of the 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial” in East Tennessee. The 12-performance run begins Sept. 11 and ends Sept. 25 in the Polk Theater at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC).
The play is inspired by a moment in Tennessee history when world attention focused on the small town of Dayton as two legal titans battled over the state law banning the teaching of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
“The play is just as relevant today as it was when first produced in the 1950s,” said David Alford, Tennessee Rep’s artistic director and the director of the production. “And just as relevant to the original battlegrounds of freedom of speech versus the literal truth of the Bible, of faith versus science. Next year marks the 80th anniversary of the trial. Our production offers a chance to experience a living, breathing and downright exciting glimpse into Tennessee’s history and a place and issues that continue to make headlines.”
A number of activities, open to the public free of charge, have been scheduled to complement seeing the play including a program at 6:00 p.m. at Davis-Kidd Booksellers on Monday, Sept. 13 and a pre-performance discussion at the theater at 6:45 on Friday, Sept. 17. For more information on these activities, visit the web site tnrep.org or call 615/782-4095.
Inherit the Wind features a cast of more than 40 Nashville actors, including Mark Cabus and Cecil Jones in the leading roles, Matt Chiorini, Matt Carlton, Henry Haggard, Carol Ponder, Pete Vann, Brian Webb Russell, and Sam Whited, all familiar to local audiences for their previous work with Tennessee Rep work and other theater groups. Local performers associated with the community theater ACT I will portray townspeople who unexpectedly found themselves at the center of an international media event.
In addition to ACT I, another not-for-profit organization will be a community partner during the production. At each performance, lawyers with the Tennessee Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will provide educational information about the sometimes controversial organization and its role in the actual trial.
Scenic design is by Gary C. Hoff, costumes by Patricia Hawkins, lighting by Chris Wilson, sound by Darin F. Karnes, and music direction by Paul C. Binkley. The stage manager is Erin Joy Swank.
Performance times for the two-act drama with one intermission are: 6:30 p.m., Tuesday and 7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; with matinees at 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 12. The approximate running time is two-and-a-half hours.
Tickets range in price from $15 – $42. Tickets for students ages 18 and under or with college identifications are available for half price. $10 student rush tickets are available one hour before show time at the downtown box office with valid I.D., subject to availability. To purchase tickets, visit the TPAC Box Office (Downtown at 505 Deaderick St. or at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Green Hills), the web site at www.tnrep.org, or any Ticketmaster outlet. Tickets may also be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 615/255-ARTS (2787). For group tickets, call TPAC Group Sales at 615/782-4060.
Background on the Butler Law and the trial
Tennessee’s Butler Law forbidding the teaching of evolution passed in early 1925. The American Civil Liberties Union in New York saw it and similar laws as infringements on constitutional rights and set out to initiate a court case to test the constitutionality of the Butler Law, according to Lyndsey McCabe of the American Studies Program at the University of Virginia.
Within days of the ACLU’s decision, George W. Rappelyea, a citizen of Dayton, saw a press release in a Tennessee newspaper offering legal support to any teacher who would challenge the law. An evolutionist and Dayton booster, Rappelyea and other local leaders hammered out the details of a plan to bring down the law and promote the small Tennessee mining town. All they needed was a teacher to test the law. They found him in John T. Scopes, a 24-year-old science teacher and football coach. When questioned about his teaching of evolution as a part of teaching biology, Scopes replied, “So has every other teacher. Evolution is explained in Hunter’s ‘Civic Biology,’ and that’s our textbook.”
Scopes was hesitant, at first, to join the case, but Rappelyea was determined. The trial was to be a grand affair, bringing fame and fortune to the small town. He began his scheme saying, “Let’s take this thing to court and test the legality of it. I will swear out a warrant and have you arrested …. That will make a big sensation. Why not bring a lot of doctors and preachers here? Let’s get H.G. Wells and a lot of big fellows.” With Scopes’ agreement, Rappelyea wired the ACLU. The stage was set for the real-life drama to unfold. Two famous attorneys, both known as great legal orators, came to Dayton for the trial: William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense. Noted journalist H.L. Menken was among the reporters who descended on the small town for “the trial of the century.” The trial marked the first time in American history that courtroom proceedings were broadcast live on the radio.
Tennessee Rep’s season sponsor is HCA/TriStar. Miller & Martin LLP is the sponsor of “Inherit the Wind.” Other sponsors include American Airlines, Bank of America, Bridgestone/Firestone Trust Fund, Neill Sandler Automotive Group, O’Charley’s. Partial support is provided by The Frist Foundation, Metro Nashville Arts Commission, The Shubert Foundation, and Tennessee Arts Commission.
Tennessee Repertory Theatre is the largest professional theatre in the state, presenting work that is designed, built and rehearsed in Nashville by a company of highly skilled actors, designers, directors, and technicians. A non-profit organization, Tennessee Rep produces a blend of comedies and dramas each year, from world classics to prize-winning contemporary plays, in Polk and Johnson Theaters at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.