Asolo Rep's Inherit the Wind Is, Unfortunately, as Timely as Ever

The Lawrence-Lee courtroom drama takes on the recurring subject of intellectual freedom.

By Kay Kipling January 22, 2024

Andrew Long and the cast of Asolo Rep's Inherit the Wind.

Inherit the Wind, first brought to the stage in 1955 by playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee and now playing at Asolo Rep, has certainly proven a durable piece of American theater. That’s due in part, of course, to the writing, the characters, the blend of humor and drama. It’s also due, less happily, to the continuing relevance of its subject matter—the importance of intellectual freedom, or, simply, being allowed to think independently.

That right lies at the heart of the play, which centers on the real-life Scopes “Monkey” Trial, pitting the teaching of the science of evolution against religious creationism. That trial took place in the 1920s, in Dayton, Tennessee; Lawrence and Lee took a great deal of poetic license with the facts to make a veiled criticism of the 1950s scourge of McCarthyism. (An introductory note to the play makes it clear it’s not to be taken as a historical document.) It doesn’t need any great stretch of the imagination to see the parallels today, with debates over banned books and what can be taught in our schools raging daily.

This production, directed by Asolo Rep artistic director Peter Rothstein, employs a sizeable number of hymns and gospel songs throughout, helping both to shift scenes and to bring us to know the fictional community of Hillsboro and its mostly God-fearing folks, who are only too pleased to welcome “guest” prosecutor Matthew Harrison Brady, inspired by real-life orator-politician William Jennings Bryan (Andrew Long) to their town, knowing he’s a Bible believer. They’re less happy to admit defense lawyer Henry Drummond, based on the agnostic Clarence Darrow (Mark Benninghofen), to their midst.

David Breitbarth, Ryan Schmidt and Mark Benninghofen in Inherit the Wind.

Darrow himself took on a number on unpopular cases, being probably most closely aligned in many minds with the notorious Leopold-Loeb trial. Benninghofen’s portrayal delivers the rather rumpled, shambling demeanor Darrow often demonstrated, even to the point at times of making one wonder if the lawyer could be drunk.

But Darrow/Drummond is more than a match for the pontificating Brady, eventually calling him to the stand when all of his scientific witnesses are summarily dismissed by the judge (longtime Asolo actor David Breitbarth, back after an absence of several years). That’s where the courtroom drama escalates, as Brady is forced to confront the nature of his own beliefs and the tide turns against him.

Sasha Andreev and Brielle Rivera Headrington in Inherit the Wind.

Meanwhile, a carnival atmosphere pervades the town, as citizens sell hot dogs and fans in the sweltering heat. The Reverend Jeremiah Brown (Curtis Bannister, in a strong performance as a hellfire preacher and one of the production’s examples of nontraditional casting) assembles his flock for a damnation sermon that includes his daughter Rachel (Brielle Rivera Headrington), who’s altogether too close to the accused science teacher, Bertram Cates (Mikhail Roberts), for Brown’s liking. And outsider journalist E.K. Hornbeck (Sasha Andreev) is enjoying himself hugely, having a zesty old time considering he’s a diehard cynic. Andreev’s performance of the role, in Rothstein’s hands and completed by the wearing of a garishly loud suit, felt over the top to me.

But that may be of a piece with the rest of the show, which often emphasizes its entertainment value over its human emotions. And it is entertaining, along with sharply delivered. It just didn’t move me as much as some other productions of the play have.

Inherit the Wind continues through Feb. 24; for tickets, call (941) 351-8000 or visit

Show Comments