Local Production of Inherit the Wind Canceled Due to Religious Objections

By Carey Purcell
30 Sep 2013

A local theatre production of the award-winning drama Inherit the Wind has been canceled following the withdrawal of the majority of the cast and the director, according to the Mankato Free Press.



Participants in Minnesota's New Ulm Actor's Community Theatre faced opposition to the production of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's play, and all but one of its cast members and its former director, Martin Luther College student Zak Stowe, withdrew from the production.

Inherit the Wind depicts a fictionalized version of the Scopes Monkey Trial as a means to discuss the McCarthy trials. The real-life 1925 trial resulted in John T. Scopes' conviction for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to a high school science class, contrary to a Tennessee state law.

The New Ulm Actors Community Theatre board voted Sept. 16 to indefinitely postpone the performance because there wasn't enough time to replace the cast before the premiere, which had been scheduled for Oct. 4. The group still expects to put on the play in the future, but a date has not been set. 

Paul Warshauer, executive director of New Ulm Actor's Community Theatre, said in an interview with Playbill that a reading of the play will be held Oct. 8 and everyone in the community will be invited to attend. 

"The public was pretty neutral about [Inherit the Wind]," Warshauer said. "They trust our selection. But it was basically a small group of Wells Lutherans that made it very clear that they didn't want this play presented." 

An on-campus audition for the play that had been scheduled for Aug. 30 was canceled by Martin Luther College. Rev. Michael Otterstatter, the college's vice president for mission advancement, told the Mankato Free Press that the college did not tell the students in the play that they should withdraw and there would have been no consequences had they performed it. Instead, some faculty members told students they were concerned about "perceptions that could be formed by some constituents due to the material portrayed in the play."

"They did send e-mails to their community, strongly suggesting that anyone involved, even though it wasn't a campus activity, not be involved in the production at all," Warshauer said. 

Martin Luther College is owned and operated by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, a conservative denomination that believes creation happened in the course of six consecutive days of normal length. The church's website states, "We believe that the Bible presents a true, factual and historical account of creation," and it rejects attempts to integrate the scriptural account of creation with the theory of evolution.

Following his departure from the production, Stowe said to the Mankato Free Press, "Even more than having to deal with public pressure, I didn't want to have to deal with professors coming up to me and saying 'Are you still doing this?'"

The playwrights state in a note at the opening of the play that it is not meant to be a historical account, and there are numerous instances where events were substantially altered or invented. Additionally, Lawrence told Newsday in 1996 that the play is "not about science versus religion; it's about the right to think."

"I've done this play twice before and never had this kind of opposition," Warshauer said to Playbill. "He was writing it in the wake of the McCarthy trials. He put it in there this was not a battle of religion or faith. This was a battle of the right of man to think. That's the way I've always looked at it." 

However, many view Inherit the Wind as containing an anti-Christian agenda.

Following the play's cancellation, the American Civil Liberties Union called the New Ulm Actor's Community Theatre, inquiring if they needed any assistance. 

"I said, 'Absolutely not. There’s no lawsuit here,'" Warshauer said. "We just canceled the play." 

Following its original 1955 production, the play has been revived on Broadway twice and adapted into a film which received four Academy Award nominations.

The New Ulm Actor's Community Theatre had originally considered performing John Patrick Shanley's Pulizter Prize and Tony Award-winning play Doubt, about a Catholic priest accused by a nun of molesting an altar boy. However, the play was deemed too controversial.