A fictionalization of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s masterpiece tells of a high school teacher, Bertram Cates (John Paul Karliak), who is put on trial for breaking state law by teaching Darwin’s theories of evolution. To argue the case, a nationally famous politician and orator, Matthew Harrison Brady (James Rice), and a well-known trial lawyer, Henry Drummond (Robert Craig), descend on “heavenly Hillsboro,” setting up an ideological clash of titans that is documented by reporter E.K. Hornbeck (Julie Terrell). While cross-gender casting often proves interesting, Terrell, sounding like Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy, doesn’t quite sell the character. Likewise, Craig, who flubs too many lines, and Rice try too hard to be “larger than life.” At times, even the townsfolk are played a bit hyperbolically as simpletons and hicks. Where director Tiger Reel fails to give his actors nuance, he succeeds in his set design, which is cleverly minimalist, even using the walls as prop storage. The color palette of the citizens’ costumes, a simple Puritan black and white, likewise sets a stylized tone. The production uniquely employs a folk band that plays religious music between scenes, but it gets to be a bit much when it holds up the action of the story. One wishes for a more strongly acted and nuanced production, given the resurrection of Evangelical fervor in the past few years that makes the play as relevant today as it was when it debuted in 1955. This production is nonetheless required viewing for anyone who has never seen the play.

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Starts: Aug. 23. Continues through Sept. 14, 2008

LA Weekly