If the Scopes Monkey Trial was happening this summer instead of the summer of 1925, there’d be tweeting from the Tennessee courthouse, live reports from telegenic Ken and Barbie dolls, shouting matches on cable “news” and enough election-year political haymaking to choke a horse. Even a century ago, before electronic and digital media, the trial of a schoolteacher charged with unlaw fully teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution was a national sensation. America had a legal and moral stake in the outcome.
The gravity of the case was no less perceptible when Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s play Inherit the Wind, based on the Scopes trial, opened in 1955. The Monkey Trial’s legendary courtroom combatants, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, became characters Matthew Harrison Brady and Henry Drummond. Lawrence and Lee’s play was faithful to their eloquence and to the circumstances that made Bryan and Darrow symbolic of something bigger than a battle of conscience and words over one man’s fate.
The Old Globe’s inclusion of Inherit the Wind in its summer Shakespeare Festival is understandable given the political scent in the wind. Moral righteousness is a staple of American discourse, the religious right a powerful player in elections and intolerance a national pastime.
Adrian Sparks (as Brady) and Robert Foxworth (as Drummond) are towering adversaries in the Globe’s production, directed by Adrian Noble. Sparks is booming and Bible-thumping, Foxworth sly and ornery. Each character boasts a noble heart, and it takes actors of Sparks’ and Foxworth’s caliber to bring that out in a play that is bursting with polemics and a little too fond of small-town yokelism.
Once the first-act exposition is out of the way, Inherit the Wind is hang-on-every-word fun, with Sparks and Foxworth at full-throated ideological war. Of the other principals, Joseph Marcell as newspaper reporter Hornbeck plays both philosophical sides against the middle in pursuit of good copy and does so with the arrogance of a modern-day media wag.
Inherit the Wind’s lessons are shouted from the Smoky Mountain top. But Sparks and Foxworth’s entreaties should echo in your thoughts throughout the long, hot summer. The play runs through Sept. 25 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29 and up.
Zoot Suit: El Pachuco tells a dramatized version of the real-life 1940s Sleepy Lagoon Murder Trial and the subsequent Zoot Suit Riots. Presented by the San Diego Repertory Theatre, along with the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, it opens July 14 at the Lyceum Stage in Horton Plaza. sdrep.org
Legally Blonde: A musical version of the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon, not to mention the novel of the same name, in which a vacuous young woman enrolls in Harvard University to win back her boyfriend. Through July 14 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Spider Baby the Musical: In this comedic adaptation of a 1964 cult horror flick, three inbred siblings terrorize a couple of relatives who visit with malicious intent. Presented as part of Gam3rCon, the gaming convention, it runs through July 15 at 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown. spiderbabythemusical.com.
Wicked: The Wizard of Oz was told from the point of view of Dorothy. This musical follows Galinda and Elphaba, who’d go on to become the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West, respectively. Through July 15 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. broadwaysd.com
Incorruptible: In 13th-century France, the miracles have dried up at a local monastery because rivals have stolen the bones of a patron saint. Hijinks ensue. Through July 21 at Onstage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Harmony, Kansas: In this world-premiere musical, a gay farmer is convinced by his city-slicker partner to join a gay men’s singing group in a not-so-gay rural community. Through July 22 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Dames at Sea: A young Utah woman arrives in New York with dreams of stardom and then—voila!—becomes one. In between, there’s singing and dancing. Through July 29 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Joe vs. the Volcano: Remember the 1990 movie starring Tom Hanks about a guy who thinks he’s dying of “brain cloud” and agrees to jump into a volcano? Well, now it’s musical theater. Through July 29 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Made in the USA: A revue of various music styles that are the genuine American article, including folk, gospel, ragtime, blues and country. Through July 29 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Divine Rivalry: Master manipulator Niccolò Machiavelli pits Leonardo Da Vinci against Michelangelo in a mural-painting competition in 16th-century Italy. Through Aug. 5 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org.
The Man Who Came to Dinner: A pompous critic and radio personality is injured in a fall on the way to dinner at the home of a small-town Ohio family and must stay longer than planned as he heals. Through Aug. 5 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
The Nightingale: A young emperor in ancient China is feeling claustrophobic within the Forbidden City when he hears the sweet song of a bird. Yes, this, too, is a musical, with tunes by composer Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater. Through Aug. 5 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Man of La Mancha: Don Quixote dreams the impossible dream, or so Miguel de Cervantes tells us, in this classic musical. Through Aug. 26 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. cygnettheatre.com
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb’s Players Theatre, it runs through Sept. 2 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Inherit the Wind: The Old Globe takes on the classic fictionalized version of the true story of the Scopes “monkey trial,” at the end of which a high-school teacher was convicted for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. The 1955 play used the trial as a parallel to the McCarthyism of the era. Through Sept. 25 in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Richard III: King Edward IV’s malicious, manipulative, murderous little brother lusts for England’s throne, takes it and presides over a reign of terror in Shakespeare’s history play. Through Sept. 29 in The Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
As You Like It: If it’s a case of mistaken identity, it must be the Bard. The story of lovebirds Rosalind and Orlando in the Forest of Arden is part of The Old Globe’s 2012 Shakespeare Festival. Through Sept. 30 in the Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Once Upon a Wedding: Zaniness abounds during a wedding gone horribly wrong, and it does so while patrons dine aboard a boat making its way around Mission Bay, beginning at the Bahia Resort Hotel. Runs on various dates through Dec. 13. onceuponaweddingthemusical.com
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net