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Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009

A Strong Case for Boulevard Theatre’s ‘Clarence Darrow’

Theater Review

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Clarence Darrow was called America’s “sophisticated country lawyer,” an agnostic who passionately believed in helping the underdog and strongly supported the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Boulevard Theatre opened Clarence Darrow last weekend, a one-man show by David Rintels, who based his material on historical novelist Irving Stone’s biography, Clarence Darrow for the Defense.

Darrow would have made great fodder for today’s tabloids, handling cases like Leopold and Loeb, the teenage thrill killers who murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks. And there’s the famous Scopes (Monkey) Trial, which pitted creationism in schools against the teaching of evolution.

One of the challenges in adapting historical material for the stage, especially in Darrow’s case—or cases—is what to include and exclude. In Rintels’ two-hour version, the more infamous cases get downplayed while others, such as Darrow defending the McNamara brothers accused of the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times building during a bitter labor struggle, get center stage. Though this case provides additional stage fodder for Darrow’s own trial (unjustly accused of bribing jurors during the McNamara trial), it’s simply less interesting than the cases that made the lawyer’s reputation.

Fortunately the actor playing Darrow, local stage veteran David Ferrie, turns in a fine performance as the witty humanitarian fighting corruption and “big business” to defend downtrodden employees or people unjustly accused of crimes based on the color of their skin.

It’s a tough job that Ferrie handles well, especially considering that he’s cross-examining “witnesses” that the audience must imagine or having conversations with people who aren’t present. Given the minimal set and lack of fellow actors and costume changes, Ferrie’s ability to flesh out the lawyer personally and professionally is all the more impressive.

“History repeats itself. That’s one of the things wrong with history,” says Darrow in reference to the McNamara bombing trial. As ClarenceDarrow attests, history at least had a warrior who fought “the good fight” in hopes of change.

Clarence Darrow runs through Nov. 1 at Boulevard Ensemble Studio Theatre, 2252 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

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