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Monday, January 25,2010

'Wind' won't sweep you off your feet

Holt-Dimondale Players production marred by uneven performances

by Tom Helma
The controversy about Darwin remains: Are we descended from a single archtype Adam ancestor, made out of mud in the hand of a Supreme Being as indicated in the story of Genesis, or have we slithered ourselves onward and upward, evolving, and eventually becoming the country cousins of Chippy the chimpanzee?

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee have constructed a well-honed script to present the two sides of the famous Scopes trial, and the Holt-Dimondale Players rise to the occasion — almost. The production starts on a tepid note, the actors seemingly shy on stage, and, in an already small black-box stage, often whispering, as if they were still trying out the lines rather than acting them.

Eventually, the major actors in this play emerge from their cocoons to deliver the most powerful lines of the play. This is one danged fine script, almost impossible to kill, and despite the long runway to launch and some long silences between moments of dialogue, the story gets told, the passion explodes.

Matthew Land, as the beleaguered teacher Bert Cates, heads up the list of those who performed well. Cates is an unassuming character, a reluctant candidate to be at the center of a morality trial, and Land nails traits of hesitancy and ambivalence well throughout the play. Cates girlfriend, Rachel Brown, portrayed vulnerably by Alyona Schluraff, displays genuine fear in the face of frequent intimidations from her hyper-evangelistic preacher-father, Rev. Jeremiah Brown, played abusively by Larry Stegman.

The “almost” characterizations belong to Todd Chamberlain as the agnostic lawyer Henry Drummond (based on Clarence Darrow), and Tracy Dolinar as the bible-thumping former Presidential candidate Matthew Harrison Brady (based on William Jennings Bryant). Chamberlain is deadpan-direct and somber throughout, but lacks a sense of the wit that has been present in previous incarnations of Drummond, while Dolinar lacks the pomposity and larger-than-life persona usually attributed to his character.

Gabriel B. Francisco as the reporter E. K. Hornbeck brings up the rear in this cadre of five significant roles, and is another “almost.” The character requires a crisp and acerbic bitterness. Francisco plays Hornbeck with just a few too many chuckles instead.

The quality of acting goes straight downhill from there, with most if not all, of the minor roles being played mushily and indistinctly. A notable exception is Evan Morgan in his stage debut, as the 13-year-old Howard Krebs, an innocent schoolboy. Morgan has a natural sense of stage movement, something the rest of the supporting ensemble lacks considerably.

Costuming is strange, with many of the male characters wearing pants clearly two sizes too small at the waist, while Charles Slocum, as an itinerant preacher, is dressed in a 1970s corduroy jacket and pants. Hmmm.

“Inherit the Wind” is a good choice for a community theater company. It provides controversy and differences of opinion. It also, however, requires a bit more attention to the details of the time period. A scrim backdrop of a jolly old English village is not quite what rural Tennessee looked like in the 1920s.

"Inherit the Wind" continues at 7 p.m. Jan. 28, 29 and 30 at the Black Box Theater in Holt Senior High School, 5885 W. Holt Road. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Call (517) 694-3411.
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