Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Clarence Darrow - Actors' Summit

‘CLARENCE DARROW’ wins at Actors' Summit

Clarence Darrow was probably the most celebrated American lawyer of the 20th century. Though he died in 1938, his fame continues. He is often quoted in matters of evolution, religion, unionism and freedom of expression.

Darrow’s life has been put on the stage in several formats. In the 1970s a one-man production, ‘CLARENCE DARROW: A ONE MAN PLAY,’ starred Henry Fonda.
“COMPULSION’ centered on Darrow’s defense of murderers Leopold and Loeb. ‘INHERIT THE WIND,” by Cleveland and Elyria’s Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, illuminated Darrow’s defense of the evolution teaching science instructor John Scopes. And David W. Rintels wrote the play ‘CLARENCE DARROW,’ which is now being staged by Actors’ Summit, Hudson’s professional theatre.

Darrow has deep Ohio roots. He was born in1857, near Kinsman, Ohio. He lived all of his youth and young adulthood in that small community which helped set his life-belief patterns. He was admitted to the Ohio bar
in 1878 at the age of 21.

He later moved to Chicago where he established himself as a proficient lawyer and a powerful speaker. He gained a national reputation as a labor and criminal lawyer thanks to his 1895 defense of Eugene V. Debs, president of the American Railway Union, who had been arrested on a federal charge of contempt of court over difficulties arising out of the Pullman strike of

Darrow did not shy away from controversy. He took on cases and causes which he felt would advance human rights and protect against human indignity. His two most famous trials were the Leopold-Loeb murder case
of 1924 and the 1925 trial of John T. Scopes. He
saved Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb from execution--but not from prison--for the murder of
14-year-old Robert Franks. The Scopes trial
concerned the teaching of evolution, which was against Tennessee law. The prosecuting attorney in this famous "monkey trial" was William Jennings Bryan.

Darrow had strong convictions on many subjects, especially religion. Once, when asked his attitude toward that subject, Darrow replied: "I am an Agnostic because I am not afraid to think. I am not afraid of any god in the universe who would send me or any other man or woman to hell. If there were such a being, he would not be a god; he would be a devil."

Though historical, Rintels’ play is very contemporary.
Several comments about the corruption of politicians, especially in the wake of the recent Bush administration’s brushes with honesty, brought huge laughs and even applause from the audience. The teaching of evolution is in the forefront of the news with the push by religionists to force the teaching of the pseudo-science, “intelligent design,” in public school science classrooms. The questions over the
death penalty are still with us. Darrow’s view on
these topics is clear....politicians have to be monitored and questioned; evolution is science, creationism is not; and “I’m proud of the fact that
102 of my clients faced the death penalty and none were hanged!” As one openong-night attendee stated during the reception following the performance, “Where is Darrow when we need him?”

A. Neil Thackaberry is Darrow. His task is daunting.
The number of lines to memorize is awesome...35 or so pages...all are his speeches! Thackaberry is excellent! His performance is relaxed and offhanded.
He wisely doesn’t fake an orator’s voice. He invites
us into his thoughts and memories as if they are completely spontaneous. He adds vocalized pauses and
thought spaces to create total naturalism. He
clearly separates casual conversation from appeals to the jury by not only changing his physical demeanor,
but by putting on or taking off his jacket. His is a
well-thought out performance which has been well-honed by director Alex Cikra.

MaryJo Alexander has done a stellar job with props and the single costume. The stage is littered with age-perfect “things.” Things like an old upright typewriter, an old fashioned lamp, weathered books, and a worn leather chair. Darrow, who was noted as often looking like he slept in his clothes, which he often did, was perfectly dressed in an ill-fitting wrinkled suit, crinkled shirt and scuffed shoes.

Capsule Judgment One-man shows are hard to stage
as it is difficult to grab and hold an audience with little action and no interaction. Actors’ Summit seems to have a way of pulling it off. Last yer Wayne Turney won acting raves (including a Times Tribute Award) for his performance as Harry Truman, and now Thackaberry pulls off this fine portrayal as Darrow. Go see this production! You will not only get a fine history lesson, but see a wonderful performance.