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Kelly Aliano

The Case for Clarence Darrow

Gary Anderson as Clarence Darrow. Photo by William Gutierrez.
June 5 to 30, 2013
The Drilling Company Theatre,
236 West 78th Street, 3 fl.
Presented by River District Theatre
Wed 6/5 at 8:00 PM, Fri 6/7 at 8:00 PM, Sat 6/8 at 2:00 PM, Sun 6/9 at 7:00 PM, Wed 6/12 at 3:00 PM, Th 6/13 at 8:00 PM, Sat 6/15 at 2:00 PM, Sun 6/16 at 7:00 PM, Mon 6/17 at 8:00 PM, Tu 6/18 at 8:00 PM, Wed 6/19 at 3:00 PM, Sat 6/22 at 2:00 PM & 8, Sun 6/23 at 7:00 PM, Mon 6/24 at 8:00 PM, Wed 6/26 at 3:00 PM, Th 6/27 at 8:00 PM, Sat 6/29 at 2:00 PM, Sun 6/30 at 7:00 PM.
Tickets $25 gen. adm., $15 seniors & Students
Box office: Smarttix (212) 868-4444, www.smarttix.com

Behind every great man is a great story. And, behind every great man’s story, are a myriad of great mistakes. Such is the case for Clarence Darrow, the American lawyer famous for the Scopes Monkey Trial. In Gary L. Anderson’s incarnation of this important figure, entitled “Naked Darrow,” currently being presented by River District Theatre and The Drilling Company, no aspect of his complicated life is shied away from; both his most notable successes and his more problematic life choices are brought to light. Anderson’s work is a remarkable representation of a remarkable man, a performance worthy of one of history's great litigational performers.

In this play, we meet Darrow late in his life. According to the program, the moment of dramatic action occurs close to the end of Darrow's days, as he faces dementia and his own mortality. And yet, in his attempt to remember his own life, Darrow, via Anderson, is able to show the audience the highlights of his illustrious career, from his more well-known defense of Leopold and Loeb, to a less-recognizable case involving race conflict, to the infamous Scopes Trial. He also exposes details of his personal life: his love affairs with women, his ambivalence toward his parents who perhaps loved their ideals more than their children, and his own progeny's disinterest in playing to host to their famous father. Darrow comes across both as the notable historical figure of which we are all aware and as a fully fleshed out human being.

The real credit for this production belongs to Anderson and Anderson alone. A one-man work can be a tough sell, but Anderson creates a world that feels peopled with characters even though his Darrow occupies the stage by himself. His performance is engaging, keeping the audience's focus on him and his narration, which serve as the only action for the drama. Yet every scene comes to life under his dictation; he evokes past and present seemingly effortlessly, pulling the audience into the moment that Darrow is currently reliving while displaying the complexity of Darrow's pain as he fights against the impulse to forget.

The set--a basic office layout surrounded by a podium set for the courtroom and a chair, which often serves for at-home or public sites--is functional and provocative without being distracting. The use of sounds, designed by Michael G. Keck, help bring Darrow's world to life on stage. The lighting, designed by Eric Nightengale, is best used when it comes up upon the jury, otherwise known as us in the audience. The complete stage picture is simple; the world that it brings to life is anything but.

This play and its source material are relevant, despite the fact that they are clearly borrowed from extensive research about the past. Yet, their performance is even more remarkable than the remarkable man that they bring to life. Anderson deserves his place in history, beside Darrow, for his not-to-be-missed work of theater. This is a special play that will leave a lasting impression, one, like Darrow, that will not be easily forgotten.


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