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Classic Drama On Stage at Basking Ridge Park

Long-running summer play series draws regional crowd.

Sometimes there's just not enough days in the week, but every Wednesday we'll give you an idea of something to do to relax, spend time with family and just take some time for yourself.

This week, you have an opportunity to spread a picnic blanket, set up a lawn chair and settle down for some serious drama, such as the kind that has run on Broadway.

The only difference is this is right in, or near your backyard—at off Valley Road in Basking Ridge—and the cost of the ticket. This production is free, although donations are appreciated.

The Basking Ridge-based Trilogy Repertory Company continues its summer season of the township's long-running “Plays in the Park” series starting Friday with the Lawrence and Lee drama, “Inherit the Wind.” The play will also be presented at the park's outdoor amphitheater at 8 p.m. each night on Saturday, and on Aug. 2, Aug. 3 and Aug. 4.

Produced by Nancy Becker of Basking Ridge, and under the direction by Hugh Wallace of Bernardsville, this play offers a fictionalized account of the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. “Inherit the Wind” explores the conviction of John Scopes for teaching Charles Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution” to his high school science classes in Tennessee.

In an interview this week, Becker said Trilogy's board approves each summer's offering, including at least one musical and also often a Shakespeare production, sometimes one of his comedies. But those Shakespearean plays, or other dramas, can be the "heavy hitters," such as she said.

Earlier this month, Trilogy which just wrapped up production with three shows last week.

Becker said that some of the selections of plays depend on finding someone willing to volunteer the time to put on a certain selection. She said that Wallace had approached Trilogy's board wanting to do "Inherit the Wind" because he said it spoke to the current climate.

The drama portrays the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial, using different names in the dramatized version, when former Vice President William Jennings Bryan prosecuted John Scopes for breaking the law, which forbade the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools.

The famous Clarence Darrow defended the science teacher while reporter, H. L. Mencken covered the trial. The authors, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, used the famous trial to explore the Communist witchhunt of the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, similar to the device used by Arthur Miller in “The Crucible.”

In “Inherit the Wind,” the authors substituted fictional names for the famous players: Bertram Cates (William Wallace of Millington) represented Scopes;  Matthew Brady (Fred Dennehy of Cranbery) stood in for the prosecutor Bryan; Henry Drummond (Bob Vaias of Basking Ridge) became the defender Darrow; and E. K. Hornbeck (Lew Decker of Millington) represented the reporter Mencken.

Additional characters are played by Vivian Adler, Jeremy Adler, Hank Barre, Ginny Pados Beutnagel, Matt Blackwell, Mark Blackwell, Lisa Black, Patrick Blood, Peter Blood, Allan Gershenson, Michael Giangreco, Robert Goodwin, Brian Herle, Christine Lawton, Nick Macri, Kathy Mierisch, Germaine McGrath, Matt Marino, Becky Pollard and Ed Schroeder.

The Lawrence and Lee play opened on Broadway on April 21, 1965, and ran for 806 performances. It starred Paul Muni, Ed Begley and Tony Randall, and won four Tony Awards.

The 1996 revival starred Charles During and George C. Scott, and received two Tony nominations, while Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer appeared in the 2007 version, which received four nominations. Stanley Kramer directed the 1960 film adaptation, with different writers, starring Spencer Tracy, Frederic March and Gene Kelly and garnered four Oscar nominations.

More recently, a 1999 television movie, based on the original Lawrence and Lee version, starred Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott, and won a Golden Globe.

The partnership of Trilogy Repertory and Bernards Township has produced more than 25 years of family entertainment, and achieved several awards for both groups for excellence in theater programming, according to the company, including awards from ACT (Achievement in Community Theater).

“Inherit the Wind” is made possible, in part, by support from New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Jennifer Gander, director of the Bernards Township , said the plays attract a crowd of theater lovers from throughout the region, including parts of Morris County and other towns in Somerset County.

While admission to “Inherit the Wind” is free, the company gratefully accepts donation to continue its year-long dramatic efforts. Bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating.

For more information, call 908-204-3003.

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