Mindy Lucas

Review: Hilton Head theater's 'Inherit the Wind' a hit for those who love a good courtroom drama

Pictured are Warren Kelley, left, and Kurt Rhoads who are performing in "Inherit the Wind" running from Oct. 6-25 at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island.
Pictured are Warren Kelley, left, and Kurt Rhoads who are performing in "Inherit the Wind" running from Oct. 6-25 at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island. Photography by Tr Media World

In the long list of courtroom dramas, a few stand out for their heated exchanges and gut-wrenching outcomes.

I'm thinking "Twelve Angry Men," "And Justice for All," even a "A Few Good Men."

"Inherit the Wind" certainly makes the shorter list, but what's intriguing about this play, unlike the previous three, is what's really on trial when the courtroom scenes finally heat up.

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Written in the mid-1950s as a response to the McCarthy hearings, "Inherit the Wind" is the fictionalized version of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial.

Several of the play's main characters mirror those involved with the actual trial and events of the time. These include the character of Henry Drummond, based on famous labor and trial lawyer Clarence Darrow, and Matthew Harrison Brady, based on the equally famous counselor and politician William Jennings Bryan.

It was no small feat to portray these two powerhouses -- who were friends in real life -- and do it in a way that kept the action moving, the tension building, and the audience on the edge of its seat.

But that's exactly what happened for the opening-night production of the iconic play -- now showing at Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island.

The back-and-forth exchange between actors Kurt Rhoads and Warren Kelley was simply mesmerizing, and it's easy to see why these two professionals were cast in their particular roles.

Individually, their performances were superb, but the dramatic tension between the two was palpable.

The most dramatic scene of the night comes when Drummond, like a prizefighter circling and jabbing at his opponent, finally ensnares Brady after demanding to know what he thinks. The normally smooth orator is left so tongue-tied, he admits -- whether by slip or by accident -- that, in fact, he does not think for himself.

The audience, which is referred to as the jury several times throughout the two-hour production, was stricken silent.

Other pairs fraught with tension included the Rev. Brown, played brilliantly by Marc Carver, and his daughter Rachel, also played brilliantly by Rosalind Lilly, as well as the H.L. Mencken-like character played by Scott Evans. Evans was entertaining to watch no matter whom he happened to be sparring with.

While there were too many other standout performances to list here, ticket holders will be pleased to know the acting is first-rate.

In terms of the overall production, the first quarter moved slowly compared to the last half, but perhaps that was because of the feeling that, at last, the trial had begun.

Transitions between scenes were seamless and at times melded into each other -- the theatrical equivalent of a fade.

I particularly enjoyed the opening of the trial overlayed with the townfolk still singing "Old Time Religion" from the previous scene -- one of many brilliant touches that worked to create the uneasy feeling that it may be difficult, if not impossible, for the town's people to set aside religion while one man, in his own right, searches for the truth.

My only criticism of the center's production was the absence of any Southern accents, which I understand was done deliberately so older audiences could follow what was happening on stage and perhaps, as other productions have noted, to give a more universal appeal.

I'm not suggesting actors use a "Foghorn Leghorn" cartoon-styled accent, but as someone who appreciates true-to-form dialects employed by actors such as Meryl Streep or Jodie Foster when the part calls for it, it would have been nice to have heard something a little more authentic to both the time and the region.

This is 1920s Hillsboro, Tenn., after all, not 2015 "Anywhere in America."

Still, I was so impressed with the overall production, with its superb acting and highly skilled directing, that by the second half, I had set aside accents entirely and was invested in the trial's outcome all the way.

And that, members of the jury, makes for great theater.

IF YOU GO

"Inherit the Wind" runs through Oct. 25 at Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, 14 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesdays though Saturdays, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets are $46 for adults and $33 for children. Prices subject to change.

Details: Call 843-842-2787 or visit www.artshhi.com.

Follow reporter Mindy Lucas at twitter.com/MindyatIPBG.

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