Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009

David Ferrie and Clarence Darrow

Boulevard Theatre's Intellectually Enjoyable Production

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Actor David Ferrie as  CLARENCE DARROW. Photo by Norman Gaulin.

The stage space at the Boulevard is split up into roughly three different areas. There’s only one actor in the show. David Ferrie plays Clarence Darrow in Boulevard Theatre’s production of David Rintels’ one man show about the legendary lawyer.

It’s a very casual, very comfortable space for a one-man show. This is just as it should be for two hours with a very practically idealistic character living through a very charismatic actor. I was probably more familiar with the historical figure than I was Rintels’ play when I’d gone in to see the play. The thing about the life of a guy like Darrow—having made a name for himself in a very intrinsically dramatic profession—it lends itself to a lot of stage and screen drama. Episodes in the life of the lawyer have made into a dozen different dramatic presentations. The most popular of these was the film Inherit the Wind—a movie about Darrow’s work on a trial that posed the question of whether or not evolution should be taught in schools. There had also been a few adaptations of the trial of Leopold and Loeb—a couple of rich kids—law students who committed murder simply because they could. The most tangential crossover for me personally was Darrow’s involvement in the Pullman Strike of 1894. This, along with other aspects of the life of industrialist George Pullman were covered in Jeffrey Sweet’s American Enterprise.

The play, at least, prior to intermission, tends to focus on Darrow’s involvement in labor. Ferrie brings it across with compassion and sympathy. And to a certain extent, that’s all that’s really necessary here. Rintels’ script allows Darrow the opportunity to outline some of the really nasty ends of labor during the turn of the 20th century. The script is laced with actual excerpts from Darrow’s speeches. And Ferrie delivers them without trying to over emphasize their drama. This is vastly preferable to seeing an actor imbue the character with undue vanity and overly dramatic flourish. The real challenge for Ferrie here seems to have been in holding back from the intensity that he could’ve attempted to light up the stage with.

The result is a very textured realistic portrayal of a larger than life figure that never quite casts enough insight into the character to be overwhelmingly impressive. The lack of insight in the production really comes from the lack of insight in the script. While we DO get bits of the more complex end of Darrow’s personal life and personality, very little of what’s present here goes beyond popular conception of who Darrow was. This is only a mild disappointment, as Darow is an exceedingly fun guy to hang out with on a refreshingly intellectual level . . . and Rintels’ has captured that sense of intellectual enjoyment . . . one that has been relayed with precision by David Ferrie. The only serious flaw in Ferrie’s performance is relatively insignificant. The play covers a wide range of years in the life of Darrow. Towards the end of the show, Darrow is relatively old. The physicality of Ferrie’s performance as an aging Darrow sometimes ventures into the realm of over-exaggeration, but only long enough to provide some contrast against the rest of what really is a remarkably realistic portrayal of one of the most legendary lawyers in history.  


Boulevard Theater’s
production of Clarence Darrow runs through November 1st. A more concise review runs in this week’s Shepherd-Express.

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