Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

February 7, 2013

'Inherit the Wind' blows into the Playhouse

Niagara Gazette — When Niagara Regional Theatre Guild decided more than a year ago to stage “Inherit the Wind” this month, the fates bequeathed it little something extra:

A mirror image of current events.

“Inherit the Wind” dramatizes the 1925 “Monkey Trial,” in which a Tennessee teacher — John T. Scopes — was indicted for the crime of referencing Charles Darwin’s evolution theories in his classroom.

And as the play opens a two-week run Friday night, a teacher in Cheektowaga goes to court in defense of what she maintains is her right to refer to Jesus Christ.

That the playdates bracket the beginning of Lent completes a trinity of topicality.

“We pick these a year or more ahead,” said board member Gary Gaffney after a weekend rehearsal. “We just wanted a good, solid drama that someone specifically wanted to direct.” He described the choice as “a crapshoot,” surely a word not in the vocabulary of the Bible-belting pastor he portrays.

Of the current Cheektowaga case — Joelle Silver was threatened with dismissal for posting Biblical verses in her classroom, and is claiming infringement of speech — “Wind” Director Fran Newton says, “It’s the same thing, just from the other side.”

He and his actors — Steve Jakiel as defense attorney Drummond, Niagara Falls comic-book czar Paul Benes as fiery prosecutor Brady and Michael Breen as the cynical big-city reporter Hornbeck — sit around discussing who’d answer roll call in “Inherit’s” courtroom today.

One lineup: Alan Dershowitz vs. Michele Bachmann, mediated by Bill O’Reilly.

Written in the mid-50s as a rebuttal to McCarthyism, “Wind” takes considerable license with the Scopes case, adding a love interest, the preacher’s daughter with a passion for a defendant. NU grad Maria Nicole Held has brought breathtaking charm to the character in rehearsals, Andrew Polino a heartfelt pragmatism to the teacher, branded as a heathen but claiming to believe in “a larger miracle.”

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