You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Inherit the Wind

Despite star turns from Kevin Spacey and David Troughton, the drama itself feels out of balance.

Matthew Harrison Brady - David Troughton Henry Drummond - Kevin Spacey Bertram Cates - Sam Phillips E.K. Hornbeck - Mark Dexter Rachel Brown - Sonya Cassidy Rev. Jeremiah Brown - Ken Bones Judge - Nicholas Jones

Trevor Nunn is directing “Inherit the Wind” — I didn’t know it was a musical. That was the gag among insiders predicting vast amounts of sets, songs, choruses and a punishing running time for the Old Vic revival. Turns out they were wrong… but only about the running time. Star turns from Kevin Spacey and David Troughton, company hymn-singing, 23 adult actors, 17 extras, 6 children and a real-live monkey give value for money. But they can’t disguise the carpentry beneath this classic courtroom drama.

Nunn argues in the program that this is a very good time to revive Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s play. Creationism is rampant in the U.S. and it’s 200 years since Darwin’s birth and 150 years since the publication of the “Origin of the Species,” the book that triggered the 1925 Scopes monkey trial, a small-town brouhaha that became a national scandal.

But has there ever been a bad time? The 2007 Broadway revival had no anniversaries to piggy-back upon but everyone saluted its astute timing. Even at its 1955 premiere the play was considered a pertinent attack on the prevailing fundamentalist thinking underpinning McCarthyism.

Urgent though the arguments remain, this is a courtoom drama in which the argument is utterly stacked. So, in the unequal battle between rational thought vs. stifling conservatism, there are no prizes for guessing which role Old Vic a.d. Spacey is playing.

Having already played Clarence Darrow in a 1991 TV movie, Spacey hits the ground running as Henry Drummond, the defense counsel modelled on Darrow. His client, Bertram Cates (Sam Phillips), has been locked up for presenting Darwin’s scientific views to schoolchildren.

Padding himself for increased girth and adopting a round-shouldered stoop beneath a white wig, Spacey tilts his spine to shift his body’s center of gravity. Being slightly hunched cunningly accentuates the angle of his head, making him appear unusually watchful.

His razor-sharp timing remains flawless, but although technically superb, Spacey’s performance feels like a repeat. Once again he displays panther-like stealth, prowling the stage while drenching as many lines as possible in withering sarcasm. In soliciting audience approval he only just stops short of raising a single complicit eyebrow, a procedure accentuated by Nunn’s placement of two jury members in the front row of the auditorium, thus affording his protagonists every excuse to play out front.

Troughton’s bigoted religious zealot, Matthew Harrison Brady, is more of a surprise. With his chest puffed out, Troughton gives Brady not only bombast and zeal but comic swagger. Constantly mopping sweat from his brow, he conveys a man who literally overheats himself on the fire of his misguided self-belief.

Yet for all the leads’ detailed work, the scale of their performances means they might as well bear signs marked “good guy” and “bad guy,” robbing the action of tension.

Sonya Cassidy is quietly impressive as the accused’s girlfriend, discovering the difficult rewards of thinking for herself. And as opportunistic journalist Hornbeck, a gleaming Mark Dexter even outdoes Spacey in superciliousness.

Rob Howell’s cramped wooden courtroom set is a contrast to the opening scenes in the vast space he creates by extending action from the very back of the deep stage to an added forestage. Nunn crams the added depth with townsfolk, but these literal crowd scenes of provincial life feel surplus to requirements.

Tables groan with food, clumps of ideally dressed people wave banners and sing Early American hymns. They add detail but little else beyond slowing everything down. As a result, by the time the court scenes get going, the mood needs cranking up. The result is a drama that’s not properly balanced.

Inherit the Wind

The Old Vic, London; 1,003 seats; £48.50 $77 top

Production: An Old Vic Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Directed by Trevor Nunn.

Creative: Sets, Rob Howell; costumes, Howell and Irene Bohan; lighting, Howard Harrison; sound, Fergus O'Hare; music supervisor, Steven Edis; production stage manager, Katy De Main. Opened, Oct. 1, 2009. Reviewed Oct. 2. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast: Matthew Harrison Brady - David Troughton Henry Drummond - Kevin Spacey Bertram Cates - Sam Phillips E.K. Hornbeck - Mark Dexter Rachel Brown - Sonya Cassidy Rev. Jeremiah Brown - Ken Bones Judge - Nicholas JonesWith: Paris Arrowsmith, Paul Birchard, Adam Booth, David Burrows, Ian Conningham, Sam Cox, Mary Doherty, Branwell Donaghey, Janine Duvitski, Sarah Ingram, Sidney Livingstone, Simon Lee Phillips, Vincent Pirillo, Christopher Ragland, Susan Tracey, Janet Whiteside, Katie Buckholz, Imogen Byron, Elizabeth Carter, Branagh Crealock-Ashurst, Shea Davis, Richard Linell.

More Legit

  • Bryan Cranston First Time in Variety

    Bryan Cranston on His Early Roles, Dealing With Rejection and His 'Erasable Mind'

    Following his 2014 Tony Award for best actor as President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s play “All the Way,” Bryan Cranston is looking to add to his trophy collection this year with his performance as Howard Beale in “Network.” The deranged anchorman — who’s famously “mad as hell and not going to take this [...]

  • Ink Play West End London

    Wary Theater Rivalry Between London and New York Gives Way to a Boom in Crossovers

    Give or take a little tectonic shift, the distance between London and New York still stands at 3,465 miles. Arguably, though, the two theater capitals have never been closer. It’s not just the nine productions playing in duplicate in both locations — believed to be the most ever — with three more expected in the [...]

  • Alex Brightman Beetlejuice Broadway

    How Alex Brightman Brought a Pansexual Beetlejuice to Life on Broadway

    Alex Brightman gives the deadliest performance on Broadway — in a good way — in “Beetlejuice.” The big-budget musical adaptation of the 1988 film directed by Tim Burton has scored eight Tony nominations, including best actor. To play the frisky role, Brightman (“School of Rock”) dons Beetlejuice’s striped suit and an assortment of colorful wigs [...]

  • Santino Fontana Tootsie Broadway Illustration

    'Tootsie' Star Santino Fontana on the Challenges of His Tony-Nominated Dual Role

    Santino Fontana is doing double duty on Broadway this year. The “Tootsie” star scored his second Tony Award nomination this month for his hilarious portrayal of struggling actor Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels, the female persona that Dorsey assumes to win a role in a play. The musical, based on the 1982 comedy starring Dustin [...]

  • Dear Evan Hansen

    Broadway Cast Albums Find Fresh Footing With Hip New Sounds, Viral Outreach

    Mixtapes. YouTube videos. Dedicated playlists. Ancillary products. Viral marketing. Epic chart stays. These are things you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original cast recording. Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record [...]

  • Ali Stroker Oklahoma

    Ali Stroker on 'Oklahoma!': 'This Show Doesn’t Follow the Rules and That Is So Who I Am'

    Ali Stroker is no stranger to rewriting history. With her 2015 Broadway debut in “Spring Awakening,” she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on the Great White Way. Three years later, she’s back onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie, the flirtatious local who splits her affections between a resident [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content