Presenting Clarence Darrow | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Presenting Clarence Darrow 

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PRESENTING CLARENCE DARROW, Greenbar Professional Productions, at Stage Left Theatre. In an age of great public speakers, Clarence Darrow was a giant, riveting juries with his passionate arguments. This was the man, after all, who made a monkey of another giant of public speaking, William Jennings Bryan, at the Scopes trial.

But you'd never know Darrow was a great orator from the way Ray Toler plays him in this one-man show based on the Chicago jurist's life. Toler reduces Darrow's every word--every heated argument, sly cross-examination, and pointed quip--to the same kind of outraged, sort of heartfelt professorial drone. He has an especially tough time with Darrow's famous wit, rarely managing to elicit more than polite smiles with material that should have had us roaring.

Sandra Grand's perfunctory direction--stand here and talk, stand there and talk, go over to the desk and talk--only underscores Toler's limited range. The only thing that saves this show from total failure is the text, which pulls together half a century of Darrow's work and makes it informative, coherent, and entertaining. However, the program states only that Presenting Clarence Darrow is "adapted" from various materials, without crediting anyone--though the play is surprisingly similar to David W. Rintels's brilliant one-man show about Darrow, performed earlier this summer by Joel Daly.

--Jack Helbig

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