Playing Matthew Harrison Brady, famed politician, orator, and attorney brought to prosecute the young teacher who dares to teach Darwin in a Christian town, Adrian Sparks leads with his belly and thunders when necessary, but he's not a bully. The soft-spoken, slow-moving Henry Drummond depicted by Robert Foxworth is about as cerebral and restrained a portrait as audiences are likely to see from this actor. Both performances are excellent, and the Brady-Drummond clash comes off as a rage against the winds of change—and perhaps against a personal demon or two—rather than a battle of personalities.
Dan Amboyer is all uprightness and fear as the lawbreaking schoolteacher facing prison. As Rachel Brown, the preacher's daughter who is reluctantly dragged into the trial, Vivia Font convincingly brings out the struggle between cherished beliefs and love for the accused. As written, Rachel is essentially the play's thematic mouthpiece, but Font still manages to give the character depth. And although he's playing a man with an ego the size of Tennessee, Joseph Marcell doesn't wear out his welcome as the cynical reporter E.K. Hornbeck.
Working on an outdoor stage, Noble and scenic designer Ralph Funicello eschew creating an actual courtroom and the claustrophobia that that could entail. The scene is a series of kitchen tables used as platforms and mismatched chairs, several of which—strategically placed in the front row—house the jury. The State v. Bertram Cates may represent the equivalent of the "trial of the century," with banners draping and the occasional souvenir being sold, but Noble's courtroom isn't spilling over with extraneous onlookers or Bible-thumpers. Neither the play nor the production feels like a circus.
Thanks to Sparks and Foxworth, we invest almost equally in the two principal warriors. More important, in this studied yet plenty entertaining production, we care not only about the battle that Brady and Drummond are fighting but also about the one that will invariably follow.
Presented by and at the Old Globe as part of the 2012 Shakespeare Festival, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego. July 3–Sept. 25. Schedule varies. (619) 234-5623 or www.theoldglobe.org. Casting by Calleri Casting.