"He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind, and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart."
-- Proverbs 11:29
Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, authors of "Inherit the Wind," said their 1955 play -- dramatizing the Scopes "Monkey" trial three decades earlier -- was intended as commentary on the then-current "Commie" witch hunts fomented by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. "We used the teaching of evolution as a parable," Lawrence said at the time, "for the right to think."
As directed by Michael Disher for Southampton's Center Stage, the issues of the 1924 trial seem fresh nearly nine decades later -- in part due to the resurgence of religious fundamentalism and its effect on state law in Middle America. But a cast led by Daniel Becker as Henry Drummond, Alan Stewart as Matthew Harrison Brady, Jack Seabury as E.K. Hornbeck and Vincent Carbone as Bertram Cates makes the conflict palpable.
The stars of the 1924 "Monkey" trial -- so called because Charles Darwin theorized that humans evolved from apes -- are renamed in the play and the 1960 film starring Spencer Tracy and Fredric March. John Scopes, the high school biology teacher charged with violating Tennessee's law against teaching evolution, is Cates. H.L. Mencken, the Baltimore Sun journalist who covered the trial, is Hornbeck of the Herald. William Jennings Bryan, three-time-loser presidential nominee who added bluster to the prosecution team, is Brady. Renowned liberal-causes attorney Clarence Darrow is Drummond. Even the town, Dayton, Tenn., is renamed Hillsboro.
The play follows the trial transcript, although peripheral characters are invented or consolidated. Dramatic license is taken with a climactic scene.
Carbone presents a nervously meek defendant, understandable given the town's virulence against him, led by Doug Walter as the fire-and-brimstone Rev. Brown. Cates' affection for the reverend's daughter (a confused Amanda Stein) deepens their dilemma. As the journalist, Seabury serves as glib narrator. Stewart's Brady is windy (guess who the title refers to?) with rectitude, while a fist-pounding Stewart allows humanity to creep into Drummond's moral suasion.
Disher's set, exposed to Daniel Schappert's sound-and-light fury, frames the courtroom with the glare of a world watching, sound-and-light fury by Daniel Schappert.
WHAT "Inherit the Wind"
WHEN | WHERE Thursday at 7, tomorrow and Saturday nights at 8, Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through Oct. 28, Levitas Center for the Arts, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton
TICKETS $12-$22; scc-arts.org, 631-287-4377