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Review: 'Clarence Darrow' comes alive in Stage West's new space

Clarence Darrow

Through April 24

Stage West

821 W. Vickery Blvd.

Fort Worth

7:15 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays


817-784-9378; www.stagewest.org

Posted 7:01am on Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2013

Stage West introduced its new space with an old favorite on Sunday night when the company's founder, Jerry Russell, presented the one-man show, Clarence Darrow.

This monologue, written by David Rintels based on Irving Stone's novel Clarence Darrow for the Defense, allows the famed lawyer to tell a story of his life that does not begin with Leopold and Loeb and end with the Scopes Monkey Trial. Those career-defining cases are touched upon lightly, but the bulk of this biography has to do with Darrow's personal life and his efforts on the behalf of organized labor. It includes some surprising low points, such as the time Darrow himself wound up on trial on charges of jury tampering and bribery.

Russell spins out these moments like a jeweler stringing gems on a necklace. He makes each one glisten on its own before putting the next one deftly in its place. It all works beautifully, with his speeches to juries providing many of the high points. And it is little wonder he seems so comfortable with the material. He has performed this show twice previously, first in the 1980s and again in 2002.

That is not to say, however, that Russell merely goes through the motions again. He makes the audience feel that the material is as fresh to him as it is to them. His familiarity with the script allows him to feel and play the rhythms of the piece even more adroitly, and his comfort with his subject makes Darrow more real.

What Russell does not do, though, is try to convince us that he is Darrow. He does not alter his voice or mannerisms in any major ways. So the show is more Russell telling us about Darrow than a presentation of the great jurist telling his own story. But that is not really a problem. Russell's performance is folksy and genuine and, if the script has a word of truth in it, those attributes were the essence of Darrow's personality.

Stage West's new space, which adjoins the current theater on its west side, is just that -- a space. It features a thrust stage with seating on three sides for a total of 61 patrons and a low ceiling that makes you feel the lighting instruments are in your lap. But, obviously, it is intimate and well-suited to this sort of show. So it is not much to look at, but it does give Stage West some new options, which is a win for both the theater and its audiences.

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