Kulturhuset, Sweden,2007 october/November
Courtesy Martin Nordstrom

Theatre Junction Grand brings The Monkey Trial to Calgary theatre scene

By Gurman Sahota, November 1 2016 —

To continue a strong anniversary season, Theatre Junction GRAND will host The Monkey Trial from Nov. 2–5.

Based on a transcript of the trial of the state of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes, the play follows the debate of evolution versus creation. The trial revolved around the Butler Act, which prohibited teaching Darwinism in high school in the state of Tennessee. The trial took place in the summer of 1925, however it was the 1960 film Inherit the Wind that sparked the interest of Monkey Trial co-creator Frank Vercruyssen.

“[That movie] was quite the caricature because it wanted to use the trial of 1925 to attack McCarthy in the ‘50s in the [United States],” says Vercruyssen, who also stars in the play.

The trial garnered vast media attention — it was the first trial to air on the radio and the first to be followed by and written extensively about by the New York Times. Vercruyssen says the trial exploded in a very indulgent American way. With how accessible the documents for the trial were, he says the play practically wrote itself.

“You have a seriously fantastic text at your disposal, the trial itself is way more layered and intelligent and has way more potential in being a theatrical presentation. We condensed the whole thing — we used some of the fantastic speeches to talk about certain things,” Vercruyssen says. “Some of the completely witty and completely nonsensical dialogues between the lawyers among themselves and between the lawyers and witnesses [helps] create a show that is hopefully quite exciting to follow.”

The play was first written in Dutch in 2003 with the English version premiering in 2007. Vercruyssen says The Monkey Trial adapts to the ever-changing political climate of the U.S. He says while the play was written in the Iraq War era, it has significance in the current age.

“The play wakes up in a time where it is even more harsh and cynical. It resonates in so many different, intense ways,” Vercruyssen says. “Hearing the big speeches of [the characters] is completely sublime and resonates so much in our time. Questioning yourself on what is separation of church and state is even more relevant today than when we created the show.”

Vercruyssen has seen how different regions of the world react and relate to different sections of the play over its 13-year run. Having taken the piece to Middle Eastern locations, Vercruyssen notes the close connection between church and state and ultimately the debate between creationism and Darwinism.

“It is an extremely interesting experience for us and for the audience. Of course the separation of church and state are not so clear and is also contested,” Vercruyssen says. “The side of the creationists is, of course, in our environment looked upon as outdated but in other parts of the world, that part of the dialogue [in the play] isn’t treated as crazy.”

While The Monkey Trial has many current political influences, the base of the play remains consistent.

“The play itself stays within a realm. It’s a certain language, a certain way of being on stage and a certain way of playing. The perception of the actors on stage and the perception of the audience itself changes dramatically,” says Vercruyssen. “Every time you’re confronted with a new audience, it resonates differently and in a very dramatic way with the reality of the audiences at that time.”

The play will show from Nov. 2–5 at Theatre Junction GRAND with tickets ranging from $20–$45.

For more information, visit theatrejunction.com

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