'Wind’ of change brings timeless themes to Arlington

Margaret Smith

The play begins – and in the end, comes full circle – with two school children, a boy and a girl.

They're having what they surely think is an innocent discussion about what the boy’s teacher taught in science class the other day – about how worms – with which he teases the girl – are a not so distant cousin of man’s.

So begins the uproar about Bertram Cates taking a page from Darwin’s theory of evolution in “Inherit The Wind,” the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee based on the so-called Scopes evolution trial in 1925.

The play – which gained new popularity as a 1960 film starring Spencer Tracy and Gene Kelly—opened Friday at AFD Theatre in Arlington.

A sparse stage and innovative set allows for varied scene changes yet emphasizes a feeling of claustrophobia as a small town gathers to hear the fate of the educator who has broken the law by teaching lessons that contradict Biblical text.

The company resonates with authenticity; particularly poignant is the heartbreaking dignity of Matthew Harrison Brady – the fictional counterpart of prosecutor and failed presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan – portrayed here by R. Michael Wresinski.

With more than a passing resemblance to another character of southern drama – Burl Ives as “Big Daddy’ Pollitt, of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” – Wresinski brings that character’s mix of humor, bombast, desperation and tragedy to Harrison’s Shakespearean stance.

The production stays true to the period of the trial, but also to the McCarthy era tensions touched on by the play.

 But there is also a contemporary flair, and perhaps inevitably, a kind of visceral response from audience members – after all, the drama isn’t over yet, as controversy over evolution continues to spring up in classrooms and courtrooms.

As even Darwin surely understood, some things change over time – but can still look awfully familiar.

“Inherit The Wind,” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, directed by Richard Carey, continues Friday, Oct. 10 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 11 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 12, at 4 p.m. at AFD Theatre, 22 Academy St., Arlington. Tickets $18. For more information, call 781-646-5922 or visit