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A mighty ‘Wind’

Impressive acting, taut direction carry CNY Playhouse’s ‘Inherit the Wind’

— Playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee insisted that “Inherit the Wind” stands not as a piece of journalism but as a piece of theater.

Though clearly based on the Scopes “Monkey” Trial which took place in Dayton, Tenn., in July 1925, the play rises above those historic specifics and uses their dramatic elements to convey a universal message of truth.

Veteran director Sharee Lemos knows how to make a point. In coordinating a crowded cast of 21 in CNY Playhouse’s current production of “Inherit the Wind,” she emphasizes the way each of the main characters employ different tactics to obtain information from courtroom witnesses and others.

And those characters – the play’s big three – are larger than life: Joe Pierce as Matthew Harrison Brady based on Christian populist William Jennings Bryan, Tom Minion as Henry Drummond based on agnostic attorney Clarence Darrow and Edward Mastin as E.K. Hornbeck based on Baltimore newspaper columnist H.L. Mencken.

While those three actors deliver the bulk of the dialogue, the supporting cast also contributes to this American classic. Especially effective are Bill Lee as the hell-fired Rev. Jeremiah Brown, Dorothy Lennon as Brady’s concerned wife, Stephen Brownell as the hick juror Elijah, Al Ross as a kindly bailiff and Marguerite Fulton-Newton as a crabby Mrs. Krebs.

But just as Bryan and Darrow earned the lion’s share of attention during the real-life Scopes Trial, so too do Pierce and Minion roar like courtroom royalty as Brady and Drummond.

The way Pierce plays him, Brady is personally egotistical and philosophically rigid but not unlikable. Pierce is a particularly charismatic actor whose flashing eyes, sincere smile and quick wit conjure comparisons to George Clooney.

Minion, on the other hand, portrays Drummond as a serious secular humanist, an intelligent, sometimes indignant man not given to ostentatious pronouncements. Good bet that Minion’s Drummond more closely resembles Kevin Spacey in the role rather than Spencer Tracy. But that’s still a compliment!

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