Twin Cities theater appears to be in for an interesting experience as vastly accomplished actor-playwright-director Gary L. Anderson premieres Naked Darrow at Park Square Theatre. Directed by artistic director Richard Cook, it’s a special, limited run commemorating Clarence Darrow’s birth anniversary this month.
In the 1920s and 30s, the historic attorney was America’s most controversial love-hate figure. He took on racism, social injustice, the death penalty—cases other lawyers wouldn’t touch—and was a labor lawyer for 17 years. This solo work affords an impassioned look at him, with Anderson portraying Darrow as more than a legend. He delves into, along with a legacy of towering achievements, the demons that derailed Darrow’s personal life.
Naked Darrow was commissioned by and developed at Park Square Theatre, Anderson working with Richard Cook to get it from the page to the stage. “When I talked to Richard about my work as Clarence Darrow for the last ten years,” says Anderson, “I said can I come [to the theater] on one of your dark nights [when the building is closed]? Can I show you [the piece] as a possible production?” With that Cook took a look; didn’t give any notes right away, but eventually sat down with Anderson to serve as dramaturg as well as producer.
“What perked his interest was the humanity Darrow [exemplified],” says Anderson. “How flawed he was. How haunted he was. His drinking, his mistresses.” There was, for that matter, a charge at one point of jury tampering. “Richard [wanted to see] the man who succeeded in spite of himself. You want to show the vulnerability, you want to give people a reason to want to identify with him on some level other than the grand and noble causes he embodied.” He adds, “We’re crafting. The story arcs.”
Naked Darrow is one of four Darrow scripts in Anderson’s repertoire. The others are Clarence Darrow: Unions & Justice, Honoring the Judiciary, and Clarence Darrow: The Search for Justice. All have played to packed houses and garnered glowing reviews. Among Anderson’s other credits: the Off Broadway drama Convict Race: Lucasville, about Ohio’s 1993 prison revolt; and Lovers & Patriots: The Love Story of John & Abigail Adams. He is CEO of the Clarence Darrow Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to Clarence Darrow’s ideals, defending, as he puts it, “the friendless and frightened of our society.” Anderson plays Darrow in Idaho Public Television’s documentary Assassination: Idaho’s Trial of the Century.
Why is Gary L. Anderson so fascinated by Clarence Darrow? “He’s the stuff of legends,” says Anderson. “He’s relevant, right now. The death penalty still rages. Racism. Suspension of Habeas Corpus, civil liberties. Every time this country gets scared enough to sacrifice them for the excuse of safety for our citizens. A tax on unions. Corporations are running our government. Some are worse than when Darrow dealt with them.”
Another Anderson stage role is Darrow’s best friend in life—and pitched adversary for the Scopes “Monkey Trial” (on film as Inherit the Wind)—William Jennings Bryan. When Anderson does Inherit the Wind on stage, he says, he prefers playing the Bryan character, Matthew Harrison Brady. “What was going on with Brady, he was falling apart.”
Naked Darrow has music, by bassoonist Trent Jacobs. “Trent is fantastic”, says Anderson. “We had our first rehearsal with him and, already, the script [was] richer from this young man’s genius.”
Anderson says of Richard Cook’s directing, “[he’s] brilliant. Richard listens. He’s focused [and] brings a sense of honor to the work.”
Naked Darrow runs in repertory with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: April 11, 12, 13, and 17 at 7:30 p.m.; April 16 at 2:00 p.m.
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