Tennessean-turned-Gabriolan Victor Anthony to play Reverend Brown in Monkey trial play

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Monday, March 17 2014

This coming weekend, the Gabriola Players will be presenting Inherit the Wind, a play written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee about the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial.

The Scopes Trial was one waged after a teacher (John Scopes) was accused of teaching evolutionary theory, which at the time was illegal to teach in the public school system of Tennessee. The trial saw the defence stand up for evolutionary theory while the prosecution stood for creationism.

The play written by Lawrence and Lee uses different names than those who were present for the real Scopes trial and was originally written in 1955 as a way of discussing the McCarthy trials going on at the time.

Local island musician Victor Anthony is originally from a town only 20 miles from Dayton, Tennessee, where the Scopes trial took place.

He’ll be playing the Reverend Brown for this weekend’s production on Gabriola.

Anthony said, “My part is not a big part, certainly not one of the principles. But it is an important part in that the play is about control, over being able to think for yourself. The state was attempting to control how the population thought.

“Obviously that is still very much going on. We’re almost a century later and the same thing is happening. Science is being brushed under the carpet - it’s crazy but it’s true.”

He says the resonance with current events is why he jumped at the chance to take part in the performance.

“I hadn’t worked with the Players before. It’s been a fantastic experience. The play is one of the best written scripts I’ve had the pleasure to hear out loud. It is brilliant.”

This is not the pantomime some islanders might expect from the Gabriola Players.

Anthony said, “It’s serious subject matter, but there is humour, there are quite a few laughs in the thing.”

It’s also a play that all ages will be able to enjoy and hear a message in.

Anthony said there is one point in the play where a 13-year-old is put on the stand during the trial and after being questioned by the defence attorney is asked if he understands what everyone is talking about.

“So the kid says no. And the attorney says, “You will later.”

“A younger audience will take away some, but not all, of the message of the play. It’s written so that you can’t miss the big picture. The subject matter is wide and deep.”

Anthony says he feels very strongly about the message, as well as the power of the play.

“It’s just darn good. I’ve been in that courtroom. It’s on the National Register of Historical Places, and it looks (except for microphones added to the judge’s bench and witness stand) exactly like it looked in 1925.

“It was my home state. I think the more important thing for me was what the play has to say as it relates to 2014 in Canada and the world. There was a bit of both.

“There was a certain bit of regional and personal connection, but for me it was much more what the play has to say. I was able to tell the company about the place and people, how they would speak, what their social situations might have been. Dayton in 1925 was pretty much a backwater.”

“To me, the play is about control, and we have just sickening control of information in the world today. Six corporations own everything, the mass media, the magazines, everything is ultimately owned by very few, a percent of the one per cent. 

“So just getting accurate information is a challenge in the twenty-first century. 

“In 1925, Tennessee wanted to control how people talked and how people thought and today we have the same thing, and we also have blocks to accessing accurate information.”

Anthony said working with the Gabriola Players for the first time has been a great experience.

“The ensemble is really strong, it has been such a pleasure.”

He said there will be surprises for the audience.

“The ensemble is in the court room, so the whole front row is cast playing townspeople.

“The Reverend Brown might (maybe) ask people to sing.

“In the audience you’ll be sitting next to and around people who will be hollering at the stage, and people will be singing songs you know, so by all means jump on in there if the spirit moves you.”

The Gabriola Players presents Inherit the Wind at the Rollo Centre, Friday, March 21 at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday, March 22 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday, March 23 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 at Artworks or online at gabriolaplayers.ca. Sponsored by Robert’s Place and presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, New York.