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'Inherit the Wind' at Camelot Theatre

A fictionalized version of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, aka The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, "Inherit the Wind" tells the story of a Hillsboro, Tenn., high school teacher who is arrested and prosecuted for teaching the theory of evolution to his students.

In the courtroom and under the scrutiny of national publicity, two legal giants — prosecutor Matthew Harrison Brady and defense attorney Henry Drummond — face off over the teacher's violation of Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in its state-funded schools.

Camelot Theatre's production of "Inherit the Wind" opens Friday, April 29, and runs through May 29 at the community theater, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. A pay-what-you-can performance will be at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 8. Tickets are $33, $27 for seniors and students, and can be purchased online at camelottheatre.org or by calling 541-535-5250.

Camelot's artistic director Roy Von Rains Jr. and director of the play says his goal was to approach the story as openly as possible.

"I didn’t want my own beliefs to influence my direction regarding the beautiful and charming Hillsboro residents or the clever visitors who come to debate," he says. "It would be an exercise of extreme hubris on my part to even try. This is an incredible play, not only presenting science and religious theories — but the right to free thought.

"Inherit the Wind" is an edge-of-your-seat look at the age-old conflict between science and religion. This Tony Award-winning drama by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is as rousing and relevant today as it was when it debuted in 1955.

Paul R. Jones plays Brady — a three-time presidential candidate and celebrity prosecutor — and Don Mathews plays Drummond — a Chicago lawyer (whose character is based on Clarence Darrow) summoned to Tennessee by the American Civil Liberties Union to make the case for intellectual freedom. "Inherit the Wind" centers around the drama between the two characters.

"Don is a joy to direct because he approaches a play so analytically, so intelligently," says Von Rains Jr. "He is never without an answer about his particular character. Drummond is part Andy Griffith and part shark. When he sees opportunities to strike during the trial, he attacks with blood lust. Yet his everyday approach to conversing with the denizens of Hillsboro is a folksy one. It's fun to watch.

"Brady is a bit of a firebrand," Von Rains Jr. says. "He's a passionate, fierce defender of anything that is a threat to the prominence of the Christian Bible as well as any laws that would place its tenets second. He's a passionate actor, and he loves theater. It lights him up.

"In the role of Brady, Paul's approach is a new, different step for him as an actor. I've seen him in 'The Sunshine Boys' and as Antonio Saliere in 'Amadeus.' Here he is so determined to get his point across. Don's and Paul's chemistry, especially with such distinctive styles and approaches, weave together well for a cohesive show."

Jake Hastings plays Bertram Cates, the quiet, unpretentious high school teacher and defendant in the trial. Buzz London plays the Rev. Jeremiah Brown, Hillsboro's fundamentalist preacher. Brianna Gowland plays Rachel Brown, the reverend's daughter and a sympathetic friend to Cates. Mark Ropers plays the county court judge. Grant Shepard will play the judge in the final performance.

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Paul R. Jones, left, and Don Matthews play lawyers Matthew Harrison Brady and Henry Drummond in 'Inherit the Wind,' opening this weekend at Camelot Theatre. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta