NOT MONKEYING AROUND: Mimes ‘Inherit’ scary and powerful

unnamedThe herd mentality has never been so scary.

One of the many notable aspects of the Mimes and Mummers’ production of Inherit the Wind is the large ensemble cast of townspeople who act as a Greek chorus commenting on the play’s events. This Bible Belt band is scarily effective whether booing people they disagree with or breaking into song (more on that later).

Inherit the Wind tackles deep questions about religion and science head-on, and the Mimes do a great job with this challenging material. This is untrodden territory for them, but cast and crew carry it off well.

Based on the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial,” the play details the trial of Bertram Cates, a small town science teacher in trouble for teaching the theory of evolution. His defense is Henrietta Drummond, a slick Chicago lawyer who is denounced as a heathen by the townspeople.The prosecutor is Matthew Harrison Brady, a Bible-thumping do-gooder who gets a hero’s welcome and is hailed as a prophet of the law. Tensions escalate and emotions boil over when the tense trial takes over the second act.

Director Joshua Brewer seats the cast onstage for much of the show, which ups the tension in the courtroom scenes. He also gives the smaller moments their due, however, making sure each major character is humanized for the audience.

Brewer has added one major element to the show: songs. He has the townspeople perform several spirituals throughout the show; these songs, arranged by Katie Dolan, are emotionally stirring at the start, but they take on a threatening air as the trial suspense increases (although having the cast sing during the bows is a bit superfluous).

The two-tiered courtroom set, designed by Jack Andersen, allows the townspeople in the gallery to interact with the trial participants while also being separate from the action. This ingenious, antiseptic design, along with the subtle lighting and sound, allows the courtroom drama to take center stage without distraction.

Michael Guariglia is a fiery Matthew Brady, letting the audience feel his deep, passionate belief, and also his sorrow at its being challenged.

As his main challenger, MaryKate Glenn refrains from making Drummond (who is normally played by a man as “Henry”) into a stick figure secularist; she is instead an audience surrogate, questioning things nobody can prove. Her emotional speech about the “right to think” being on trial is a show highlight.

A.J. Golio makes the audience feel Bertram Cates’ inner pain at being punished for doing his job; the audience feels sorry for him and is on his side thanks to Golio’s tender work.As his girlfriend, the preacher’s daughter who doubts her father’s wisdom, Rachel Sternlicht beautifully personifies the conflict between love and family loyalty.

The questioning journalist E.K. Hornbeck is the show’s comic relief, and Jonathan O’Neill is a perfect fit for the role. Hornbeck’s quips, which may seem like thoughtless insults, take on extra resonance in O’Neill’s funny, thought-provoking delivery.

The theory of evolution is constantly being questioned, but there’s no question that Inherit the Wind is a necessary work. The Mimes prove that with their production, which both asks big questions and shows the power of small moments.