We tend to think of dramatic productions as fictional narratives that unfold onstage, but, as reality television has taught us, real life drama is often the most compelling spectacle. On Thursday, February 11, Dijo Productions opens a play that combines the best of both worlds, Inherit the Wind. The classic courtroom drama was first produced in 1955 at the height of the McCarthy era, yet it tells the story of an earlier conflict: the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925.
For those who need a refresher, the Scopes Trial pitted high school teacher John Scopes against the State of Tennessee, where the teaching of evolution had been made illegal. The ACLU financed the defense, celebrity lawyers used the trial to aggrandize their own names, and the entire affair served as a publicity stunt for the city of Dayton, which thereby became the focus of national attention.
It may have been a stunt, but the trial also proved to be deeply influential in the debate between creationists and evolutionists. In choosing to stage the play, Dijo’s executive director Jerry Oshinsky and director Ed Giron feel they’re revisiting a timeless theme that resonates today just as it did in the 1950s. “It’s an electrifying courtroom drama,” Giron explained. “It’s very intense.” And to add to the audience’s sense of immediacy, Giron is staging the play in the round. “It’s a technical, as well as an artistic challenge,” he said of the setup. “You have to let actors evolve organically, but they also have to move a lot more than on a proscenium stage. Center Stage will be totally reconfigured, with quite a large set right in the middle of the floor. The audience fills the spot of the jury or the town, depending on what scene we’re in.”
Giron also noted that the cast all live and work in Santa Barbara. “I have seen a lot of great local talent,” he explained, “and I like to see them perform in their own town.”
Inherit the Wind runs through Saturday, February 27. For a complete schedule or to purchase tickets, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org.