Director Steve Pickering's staging for Oak Park Festival Theatre in the company's traditional Austin Gardens setting loses the sense of confinement and stifling heat in the Hillsboro courthouse — the stand-in for the town of Dayton, where John Scopes was convicted of violating Tennessee's law against teaching evolution. Some of the taunts become less taut when one has to compete with overhead air traffic. (Though it makes the musings of
But Pickering brings the action into the audience during the trial scenes by having townspeople sit next to us, fanning themselves and gasping as Jack Hickey's Drummond (based on renegade atheist defense attorney
Yes, Hornbeck (read:
The most chilling moment here comes courtesy of Rev. Brown's violent rejection of his daughter after she pleads with him for mercy toward the jailed Bert Cates. As Shannon Parr throws his daughter on the ground, we see that Rachel isn't just afraid of her father's harsh words — his fists have also undoubtedly landed on her over the years. Parr's hellfire-and-damnation persona stands in sharp contrast in that moment to the kindness of Mrs. Brady and of her husband, who seem genuinely aghast at how far Brown's imprecations against the "godless" have gone — not unlike some contemporary Christians confronting Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church ilk.
And yet, just as those who may be uncomfortable with the eliminationist rhetoric of religious fundamentalists will still pander to their fears and prejudices, Brady himself browbeats Rachel on the witness stand. Only Mrs. Brady's sharp one-word rebuke — "Matt!" — stops it. When Parr's minister sits malevolently in the audience at play's end, a military jacket covering his clerical garb, it's an effective (if somewhat heavy-handed) statement by Pickering of the increasing militancy of the religious right.
Hickey's Drummond still seemed to be searching for the right pacing on some of the attorney's
When: Through July 14
Where: Oak Park Festival Theatre, Austin Gardens, 167 Forest Ave., Oak Park
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes