With the Kansas State Board of Education making international headlines over its decision to downplay the teaching of evolution in schools, the play "Inherit the Wind," is making a timely comeback in theaters.
It opens at 8 p.m. Friday at Lawrence Community Theatre, 1501 N.H.
The play, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, focuses on the legal duel waged in a 1925 courtroom by legendary attorney Clarence Darrow and master orator and politician William Jennings Bryan.
The two butted heads over a law meant to limit the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools. Nicknamed the Scopes Monkey trial, it was the media event of the day, although it wasn't called that eight decades ago.
"They called it history-making, because they hadn't come up with the name media-event," says Jacqee Gafford, the play's director.
In real life and on stage, the state won its case against John Scopes, an instructor whose crime was once mentioning the theory in class. The theory of evolution contends that life arose on earth spontaneously, while the creation viewpoint holds that a creator was behind the origins of life on earth.
The moral victory went to Darrow and the defense, when he turned the tables on Bryan by putting him on the witness stand.
Once there, Bryan who had run three times for U.S. president was unable to coherently defend his beliefs. And the law in Tennessee was never really enforced.
"It just kind of went away," Gafford says.
Much about the legal drama has entered a near mythical realm. Most people believe it was a pure debate between science and religious faith, while in reality it was more of a planned news event meant to draw attention to the argument.
There is a newspaperman who is central to the play, highlighting the media's presence at the trial.
And one Scopes scholar once called it "less a solemn confrontation between truth and error. ... It was the first modern-style media event ever staged in the United States."
With the evolution fight still raging, Gafford feels the play's strong text will help make the topic relevant to theatergoers who scan the daily headlines.
"It's written smart...there's an immediacy to the play. People were so divided and vehement in their beliefs, and to see these two giants doing battle with each other is amazing," she says.
The play follows the historical events accurately, but recent Board of Education events make it topical today.
"It certainly is timely enough. That will key up interest, even if some of the people who initiated things recently are not here," Gafford says.
In "Inherit the Wind," Scopes is called Bert Cates and is played by Kevin Kelly. Darrow becomes the character Henry Drummond and is played by Robert Matthews. Fred Bahr is the Bryan character, called Brady.
The play was most recently filmed as a TV movie starring Jack Lemmon and the late George C. Scott, who won an Emmy posthumously for his portrayal of Brady.