What if, after decades of learning and embracing the teachings of Charles Darwin, the pendulum slowly began to swing back from whence it came…? Actor/Playwright Matt Chait sets out to explore this very notion in his latest, most cogitation-inducing play Disinherit the Wind. Set in modern day, professor Bert Cates finds himself on trial and under investigation for allegedly undermining the scientific name of his prestigious University, to speak nothing of his own image, and standard curriculum therein, for suggesting that perhaps, rather than evolution as a cause and result of simple corporeal functionality, there is an ancillary, even opposing gestalt to our progression involving something a little more arcane than mere physical mutation.
The production’s energy is like nothing I’ve ever quite felt before as the lobby fills to capacity at the Santa Monica Blvd. Complex’s Ruby Theatre. As the clocks hands (albeit non-human and unmutated) reach closer to the prime time hour, there is anticipatory chatter of “the lecture”; the lecture we all must witness first and foremost, prior to anything else! As the doors open a little after declared start time, the primary presence one observes is a rather austere security guard seemingly monitoring the audience’s arrival. On the stage: a podium behind which our beloved writer/protagonist Chait aka Cates will ultimately orate. As the lights dim and the academic discourse commences, a sense of magic fills the space as pink gobs of RNA surround green strips of DNA. The additional illusion of all the varying strands of human DNA in a single human body will invariably be referenced in terms of length and the amount of times it could stretch to the sun and back! (6—if I remember correctly! Love such imagined statistics!) The lecture itself is quite stimulating in conjunction with said film strip, comparatively more academically mod than any I’ve ever witnessed, displaying the vibrant and multicolored replication of DNA in “real time”! It really is all quite amazing and Cates, resembling a kindly and earnest white-haired Carl Sagan, can’t help but opine that the older he gets the less concerned he is about how his body looks but more and more awed by what it does!
At the onset of the trial, protesters under the guise of anti-spiritualist/pro-Darwin picketers, inhabit the front of the court building along with a comparatively passive Howard Blair who has been labeled the top graduate student within the biology department. Imagine fellow student and pro-evolutionary life protester Marty Dunlap’s shock at the realization that Ol’ Howard is on the suspended professor’s side. Not only that, he will be testifying on his behalf: Blair’s paramount reason?—Cate’s class fills him with awe and wonder regarding the subject of micro-biology, as opposed to mere comprehension.
Complicating the matter further, Blair is seriously involved with Dr. Jared Brown’s daughter Melinda, of the opposing side of the department.
Once inside the courtroom, after Cates has made it clear that he will be defending himself for articulated financial reasons and the implied rationale of argumentative genius, issues will center around mechanics vs. holistic existence, exploratory meditation, probability, and true nature of our genesis.
Are feelings something that affect the chemicals in your brain, and if so, from where do they originate prior? Or do chemicals in the brain, originating solely from the brain, simply change the map of a brain scan?—Will be one of the chief arguments explored.
“Focus on your breathing. Are you breathing, or being breathed?” Cates will ask monitoring a guided courtroom meditation as an example of the “controversial” tactics used in his classroom prior to his expulsion. “Move your conscious down to your stomach, to your legs etc… Is your conscious your brain or is it you?” he will entreat.
Noted hotiy toity British Scientist Robert Hawkins makes a courtroom appearance and argues at length about probability concerning organic mutation paralleled with apes in a room eventually writing a single and specific sentence, but Cates even challenges the probable numbers related to said concept and questions the analogy betwixt organisms and incoherent to incomplete sentences all together in quite a rousing showdown!
Oh and talk about a proverbial missing link in our own biological progression:
“We don’t even know how life began. What’s a single celled organism supposed to copy off to set the process in motion?” Cates exclaims intimating the notion of the missing link from ape to man and paralleling it with an additional missing link of the most primordial kind…
Fascinating… Fascinating stuff…
In short, and according to this reviewer’s parallel musings: If we are empty husks when we cease to exist, then we must be full husks when we are alive. But full of what exactly? Cates’ antagonizing colleagues could probably opine what they thought he was full of but the mere question in question and the fact that it is being questioned in the first place, may just prove them wrong by default.
An overall professional and scintillating production and performance alike! Direction by Caitlin Rucker and Matt Chait is seamless. Erik Daniels, star graduate student extraordinaire, is both sympathetic and refreshingly idealistic. (He also looks as though he could have stepped out of Berkeley in the late 1960s which also adds an extra bit of texture to the thing.) Andrew Kirkley as Marty Dunlap, the questioning protestor, is wide-eyed in all his skepticism at the subject matter at hand, yet has an air about him that could have been culled from as far back as the original wind inheritors. Amanda Payton as Melinda Brown is assuaging and compassionate and G. Smokey Campbell, her father and Chait’s co-anti-conspirator Dr. Jared Brown is bulldoggish and gently paternal in all the right places. Ken Stirbl as prosecuting attorney William Brady is tempered and tenacious. Ronnie Alvarez as reporter Alan Hornbeck cops the countenance of ace reporter, in the hole, and could have stepped out of the play’s namesake era as well, as if ghosting from a parallel universe! Monica Martin as Officer Meeker is imposing and accommodating in all the right places (the former in particular as we entered the theatre. Seriously, you wouldn’t have wanted to get out of line there…) Christina Hart as Judge Sarah Drummond is wonderfully partial and open. Circus-Szalewski as the British-accented Robert Hawkins is the perfectly virtual proverbially moustache-twisting scientific villain. Matt Chait as the wise middling-aged Bert Cates is an argumentative force to be reckoned with and quite the knowledgeable writer to boot!
Disinherit the Wind runs until November 29th at the Ruby theatre.
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