By MILAN PAURICH
Considering the fact that nearly half of the 2008 Republican presidential candidates publicly repudiated Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee’s 1955 play “Inherit the Wind” seems more relevant than ever.
Although Lawrence and Lee used the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial as a parable for the anti-communist hysteria sweeping the country during Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) investigations, its ringing endorsement of intellectual freedom still resonates loudly today. Especially today.
Accordingly, the production of “Inherit the Wind” that opens at the Youngstown Playhouse on Friday promises to spark vigorous debate among area theatergoers. During a recent interview, “Wind” director Samuel Joseph discussed the play’s continued relevance and what it’s like to be working in community theater again after an extended absence from the local scene.
Q. Could you tell us a little bit about your background in community theater?
A. I’ve been acting for 46 years in a variety of theaters throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio. I have a BA in theater from Penn State with an emphasis in film and have returned to that medium in the last couple of years. While it’s true that I’ve been away from the Youngstown community theater scene (I think my last production was at the Oakland Center for the Arts in 2000 or 2001), I have been active in the Sharon area as both actor and director. Additionally, I’ve done some film work as an extra in Pittsburgh, as well as a production in Cleveland, a couple of shows at Hiram College, and I was part of a local project that appeared at the 2008 New York City Fringe Festival. I prefer working on small, independent projects and original works with edgier themes.
Q. What attracted you to “Inherit the Wind”? Have you directed or performed in any earlier productions of the play?
A. I have neither directed nor performed in any previous productions of the show, nor have I ever seen it performed on stage. The opportunity to direct came out of the blue, and after reading the script it seemed like it would be a fun and challenging thing to do. I was intrigued by the conflict between (Henry) Drummond and (William Harrison) Brady, and wanted to see what I could do with it.
Q. Are you going to take advantage of the current political climate by adding a topical spin to your production? Or will you let the audience make that type of metaphoric connection on their own?
A. People who know me know that I’m hard-headed, opinionated and obstinate — in a kind and gentle sort of way, of course — and I manage to get myself into enough hot water without any help (laughs). No, I won’t be adding a contemporary spin to the Playhouse’s “Inherit the Wind:” I’ll just let the audience make up their own mind(s).
Q. Who will be playing the pivotal roles of Brady and Drummond, the characters inspired by William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow from the actual Scopes Trial?
A. Larry Latsko and Joe Scarvell are playing Brady and Drummond. I’ve worked extensively with both of them for more than 30 years. This show is actually very unique in the fact that Joe is responsible for getting me involved in theater in the first place. He was my high school teacher more years ago then either of us care to remember (laughs). I’ve worked as an actor for Joe in many shows throughout the years, and saw this as an opportunity to get even for all that he’s put me through (laughs). Seriously though, it’s always an immensely gratifying experience when the student becomes the teacher — kind of cool really. Larry was also a former student of Joe’s, so we all have a very long history together.
Also appearing in the show are Denise Sculli, Mary Catherine McMahon, Brandon Studer, Chris Ferencik, Carl Brockway, Matthew DiBattiste, Becca Kopchak, Caitlin Driscoll, Ken Stiver, Tom Gilmartin, Steve Mays, Bill Rees, Terry Shears, Mason Stuard, Joe Marshall, Anna Marshall, Sam Horne, Lauren Cline and Bill Nibert, many of whom are new to the Playhouse stage.
Q. “Inherit” is a fairly large scale production (copious speaking roles; a period setting; etc.) Was that a particular challenge your first time back in the directing saddle after having been away from the scene for so long?
A. It’s indeed challenging to try and assemble a cast for a show of this size, regardless of how active or inactive one has been. Filling the so-called “minor” roles has been the most difficult aspect of this production, at least up to this point. I’ve had to “improvise” in certain instances and make non-traditional decisions based on what’s at my disposal. The set design is representational with limited color, and lighting will play an important part in the show. I believe that the performances should be the main focus of any production, and have never been drawn to special effects.