I should tell you the basic plot of the play. Do you know the play/movie Inherit The Wind? That play was about the Scopes Trial, also known as the monkey trial, which took place in the 1920's in a small town referred to in that play as "the buckle on the Bible Belt." The citizenry of this town were up in arms because a teacher read to his class some portion of Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species.' At that time, presenting anything other than a biblical account of the origin of life was illegal in that state. It became a trial of international significance, with the teacher being represented by Clarence Darrow, the foremost trial lawyer in the country, and the townspeople being represented by William Jennings Bryant, the foremost orator in the country.
If you enjoy reading this blog, attending this production, I imagine, will be "truly unforgettable." (Remember, this is still the shameless commerce division.) Small theater in Los Angeles is always a money losing proposition, but if the admission price is difficult for you, you can enter 'Deal50' when you make your reservation and get a half price ticket.
If coming to Los Angeles is not in the cards, then you can purchase a copy of the play at amazon.com. I would wait on this, however, since the play that they are selling now is the original and the revised edition wont be ready for at least a month.
Here are some reviews of the current version of the play:
By Ron Irwin
Observer Staff Writer
Play offers rather rare quality of complete mental immersion in the subject matter
The show begins in a University lecture hall where Professor Bertram Cates is presenting an abundance of details about the biological and physical structure of the human body. Compelling are these details of DNA and cell formation and other fascinating facts about physical life and they are made even more impressive as actual scientific video is projected on a very large screen as the good professor explains to the assembled class also known as theatre audience in this instance exactly what it is they are looking at.
Instantly the audience knows that whatever may be ahead it is absolutely not your typical theatrical event and indeed it is not. It becomes far richer and infinitely more thought provoking yet retains the essential requirement of being fully entertaining as it dives into the question of how does spirituality connect with science?
Soon the story moves forward several years. Professor Cates has lost his tenured teaching job for daring to challenge the academic establishment. Professor Cates you see actually started to look beyond the mere mechanics of human life and began to ponder the true meaning of life. As he did so he increasingly began to challenge the Darwinian theory of natural selection and began to focus more on consciousness and spirituality along with other scientific knowledge that has emerged subsequent to the development and wide acceptance of Darwin's theory of evolution. Taking that position put him out of work and eventually in a courtroom seeking some level of justice.
The courtroom battle is intense and pits Professor Cates against the world renowned Dr. Robert Hawkins a deeply devoted subscriber to the Darwinian theory. The battle of wit is brilliantly presented and utterly captivating. Very unique in the world of theatre "Disinherit the Wind" compels a complete mental emersion and evokes long term analytical thinking, and that is both the strength and the weakness of this magnificent show.
It gives "Disinherit the Wind" a rather rare quality of complete mental immersion in the subject matter. Such immersion is richly stimulating and for many a source of great joy regardless of any conclusions that may be drawn. But then again there are those who consider "The Kardashians" and "The Bachelor" to be really good television. Those folks will likely not enjoy "Disinherit the Wind."
"Disinherit the Wind" is intense and compelling and extremely well acted by the entire cast, superbly written by Matt Chait and brilliantly directed by Gary Lee Reed. So except for those who actually watch "The Kardasians" or "The Bachelor" I highly recommend "Disinherit the Wind" playing now through April 9th 2017 at The Complex [Ruby Theatre], 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, California. Show times are Fridays and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. This is one show you will never forget.
“Disinherit the Wind” at the Complex Theater
Did Darwin skip a link?
Here’s a line we don’t often hear: “I’m going to make you feel great about your body.” Now place it in the mouth of a tenured microbiology professor, and you have the essence of what makes playwright Matt Chait’s Disinherit the Wind so unique.
By Melanie Hooks
Just opened at the Complex Theatre in Hollywood, Chait’s courtroom drama debates evolution theory, specifically Darwin’s, and its lionization among scientists. Chait himself plays the lead, Dr. Bertram Cates, a professor stripped of his position and reputation by the University of California when his unusual take on consciousness brings unwanted media attention. As we learn through the courtroom proceedings, however, Chait’s real beef is with Darwin’s Origin of Species conclusions. The institution’s, and indeed the field’s, knee-jerk reaction is to label him a creationist (which he assuredly is not) and laugh him out of his profession. Cates has his day of reckoning to clear his name, and we the audience go along for the intellectual, spiritual, and occasionally emotional ride.
The biggest draw is Chait himself, nimbly managing the lion’s share of dialogue, over the 2 hour, 40 minute run-time. He immediately establishes credibility as a professor in the opening scene’s sample Molecular Biology lecture. His topic – the delicacy and intricacy of DNA replication – fascinates and awes him, and his energy, like any great university lecturer’s, spreads throughout the room. Audience members nod in understanding as he breaks down the topic and leans into the best bits. The Complex is a small, black box space, so there is little hiding even in the darkened seats, adding to the feel of a classroom. “Life is a million times older than the pyramids;” “One hundred trillion hemoglobins/second are produced by ribosomes;” “Your body has 37.2 trillion cells.” These could be delivered as dry facts, but Cates practically sings them. The body’s complexity enthralls him, and the character, even later when beaten down by humiliation and exhaustion, stays true to that pure love. This love is the basis of his spirituality, which he’s not shy about sharing. It’s refreshing to see such a duality in an academic character.
More common in drama is the representation of Cates’s rival, Dr. Robert Hawkins, played by Circus Szalewski with exactly the sort of sneer one expects from a Cambridge don. Unfortunately his dissertation-style dialogue doesn’t allow for much comedy, but when it does, Szalewski shines.
Cates’s protégé, Howard Blair, is closer to tears than laughter, as his fellowship and engagement to the Dean’s daughter are both on the line. Actor Stephen Tyler Howell shakes with all the nervous energy one can well imagine having on the biggest day of a young life. He arguably has more to lose as Cates’s only character witness. Blair is gambling a future career yet to happen versus Cates’s defense of a long-established one. Howell and Rehany Aulani, who plays his fiancé Melinda Brown, share a nice, believable chemistry amongst the biologists, and Aulani strikes a grounding daughter-father presence with G. Smokey Campbell, who plays the pro-Darwin crusading UC department head, Dr. Jared Brown. Neither Brown nor Hawkins can imagine an explanation of life’s origin outside Darwin’s theory, and both struggle to understand Cates’s thoughts about consciousness versus physical existence. Where does the mind fit in?
Brown’s character has the potential to be the most morally complex and conflicted, torn between his desire to defend the university’s reputation and his own love for new ideas, something his bureaucratic tenure has denied him. Campbell is afforded little opportunity to express this middle ground position, as most of the play’s real estate concentrates on the ideas themselves as expressed by their real believers, Cates and Hawkins. Playgoers however are treated to Brown’s forceful academic animosity in contrast with his real tenderness toward daughter Mel, a tease at a deeper emotional journey that would have been enjoyable to experience more often. Campbell’s stillness when holding daughter Mel’s hand might be the show’s most deeply felt moment – quiet, brief, jealously guarded.
As it stands, grad student Blair takes the prize for Act One’s most transformative personal choice, and Cates’s highs and lows take the audience along the whole of Act Two. The writing makes good use of the Judge (Christina Hart)’s reminders to both sides that they should be sticking to the evidence instead of their desire to win small, personal points. Even lauded academics are human, perhaps more painfully so, as their daily goals often knock on the door of eternal questions. The visuals, projected on scrims, of microscopic and galactic images also harken back to the real topic – the mystery and wonder of life.
Including intermission, the entire experience runs around three hours, which starts to feel it at about Hour 2.25. But as a summary of his own life’s writings and insights into spiritual-scientific links, it likely feels short to Chait, who remains just as invested emotionally by the end of the play as in its opening. His drive powers along the last section, and we experience Cates’s personal resolution as genuine and profound.
In an interview with Dan Berkowitz, Chait dismisses cautious and ‘good enough’ attitudes about theater: “If you are not trying to deliver an experience to an audience that is life-changing, or attempting to affect people in a way that they will never forget, then what is the point?” Whatever one’s own conclusions about the origin or meaning of life, it’s unlikely that Disinherit the Wind will leave the mind unchallenged or unaffected.
Well worth your time – enjoy
The World Through Night-Tinted Glasses
Monday, March 6, 2017
Disinherit The Wind (review)
I feel strange writing this. Disinherit The Wind (the title is a sly reference to the famous Pro-Evolution play Inherit The Wind--one of several) is a polemic about the relationship between science and spirituality, with an emphasis on how the two can live side by side. It attacks pure materialism, while eschewing anything smacking of fundamentalism or Creationism. But it also rejects Darwinian Evolution.
Now, most of this is actually my own point of view as well. I also see the universe itself as the manifestation of a transcendent consciousness of which we are a part. I see no inherent conflict between my faith and science.
Disinherit The Wind tells a moving story, one that centers around some fairly esoteric questions of evolution, biology, genetics and other sciences. The fact such seemingly dry fare becomes a source of fascination and passion marks one of the play's great strengths. It urges, encourages, almost makes audience members think! Which is nearly the highest praise I can offer.
Dr. Bertram Cates (Matt Chatt--the playwright and owner of the Complex Theatre) is our protagonist--a neurobiologist fired because (he claims in a lawsuit) he disagreed with Darwinian Evolution. Financially he defends himself while the University has prominent attorney William Brady (Ken Stirbl) assisting Dr. Jared Brown (G. Smokey Campbell). The only witness Cates has on his side is graduate student Howard Blair (Stephen Tyler Howell), engaged to Dr. Brown's daughter Melinda (Renahy Aulani). One can see how the case cannot help but strum the strings of conflict, also the real battle happens in Act Two.
That is when Cates confronts the University's prime witness--Dr. Robert Hawkins (Circus-Szalewski) a very thinly veiled version/parody of Richard Dawkins. Since all this takes the form of testimony before not a scientist but a judge, both debaters are forced to make their points in layman's language--which sometimes even strays into the poetic.
Juicy stuff. It works I feel for the characters, and the rest of the audience felt for them as well. More I was so involved in the debate my urge to enter into it, making a point, needed stifling! Wow. Well done! Entertaining, moving and thoughtful--as fine a trio of adjectives as most plays could hope for! And totally deserved!
So why do I feel strange? Especially since I essentially agree with the protagonist in what after remains a play with a great big MESSAGE delivered pretty explicitly over and over again?
Well, I don't think he succeeded in making his case. Not in the way he claimed, anyway. Frankly Hawkins is set up as a straw man, the authoritative voice of the opposition. And he comes across as very intelligent, very arrogant, very unwilling to consider any world view other than his own--to the point where he storms off rather than even talk with Dr. Cates.
Frankly that feels like cheating. I wanted to step on stage and take his place--specifically because I do agree with Dr. Cates and wanted to hear him expound on important things such as punctuated equalibrium, and alternate definitions of life, and other matters. The play presents the question of evolution and beginning of life as in any way related--they are not. The latter is an infant science and anyone who confidently claims ideas common before I was born as current thinking--as Hawkins does--of course comes across as a fool. The playwright set up his voice of dissent to fail.
Of course that also makes for a good story, so in a way I cannot blame him. It helps as well the whole cast does a fine job--including Lon S. Lewi, Tony Cicchetti, Caroline Simone O'Brien and Christina Hart. All of which adds up to an almost startlingly good piece of theatre, a theatre of ideas that (and this makes for very high praise) fuels serious thought on the part of the audience.
So despite my whining, this remains a good play and very compelling production.
If you do come to see the play, please say hello to me after the show. It only takes me about five minutes to emerge from the dressing room. Thanks.