What would it have been like to have been in the Rhea County, Tenn., courtroom during the summer of 1925 to witness William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow argue Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes? Theatergoers will have the opportunity to experience it for themselves when Great Performances at Vanderbilt presents The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial on Oct. 19 and 20.
“The trial of the century” took place 150 miles from Nashville in Dayton, Tenn., and 80 years later it is still the subject of intense debate as school systems across the country argue what can be taught about the origins of life.
The first court case broadcast on American radio, it prompted discussion in living rooms around the nation about whether evolution was scientific fact or only a theory. A recent resurgence of interest in the case has resulted from the debate over the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools.
Great Performances will bring the national tour of this play by Peter Goodchild to Nashville, with a professional troupe featuring Ed Asner, John de Lancie and Alley Mills. Goodchild’s docudrama is adapted from the actual transcripts of the trial that transfixed the nation in 1925. Joining the cast for the Nashville dates is Jason Scott Dechert, a Vanderbilt theater major, who will play a student called to testify in the trial. Nashville is the first stop outside California for the tour of this production by L.A. Theatre Works, renowned for its radio plays.
The play anchors a three-day arts residency program at Vanderbilt, which also features an “Actors’ Talk Back” event with members of the cast who will discuss their craft and a forum about the enduring Scopes trial controversy. Both are free and open to the public.