One-man show chronicles the life of Clarence Darrow

first_img One-man show chronicles the life of Clarence Darrow A 48-star flag, three dark wooden chairs, a table, and dramatic flair will bring legendary defense lawyer Clarence Darrow to life at the Bar’s Annual Meeting in Orlando.Actor Paul Morella plays Darrow in “A Passion for Justice: The Clarence Darrow Story,” by Jack Marshall and Terry Kester, as part of the Chester Bedell Memorial Luncheon sponsored by the Trial Lawyers Section and the Chester Bedell Foundation, on Friday, June 27, at the Orlando Marriott World Center. (See the May issue of the Bar Journal for registration information or The Florida Bar Web site: www.flabar.org.)“I like to think it’s the spirit of Darrow doing the show,” said Morella, taking a break in rehearsals for another performance. “I’m just the convoy he channels through.”Morella, son of an attorney, is no stranger to lawyer roles, having played attorney Jarreld Schwab opposite Julia Roberts in The Pelican Briefs, appeared as prosecuting attorney Horace Gilmer in the world premier of To Kill a Mockingbird, and received a Helen Hayes Award nomination for his performance as Roy Cohn in Tony Kushner’s epic, Angels in America. An MFA (acting) graduate of Catholic University, Morella, 46, also teaches persuasion techniques as part of the Trial Practice Program at the Washington College of Law.Morella said the idea for the show came when he was working with Marshall and Kester on the one-man Darrow play, initially made famous by Henry Fonda, to be performed in Washington, D.C. But at the same time a national road show of the play was on tour, and it exercised its option to prohibit any other performance of that script in Washington, one of its scheduled stops.“We said, ‘What would Clarence Darrow do?’ So we put together our own show,” Morella said. That included poring over books about Darrow, including his autobiography, and trial transcripts from all phases of his career. One of the books focused on Darrow’s celebrated defense of himself late in his career, when he was charged with attempting to bribe a juror in one of his cases. That book took the position Darrow actually attempted that act, even though he won his own acquittal.“He went through a sense of redemption and focus and decided to focus more on the individual and less on Clarence Darrow, and became a better person for that experience,” Morella said.Darrow is an compelling character, both for actors and lawyers, he said.“He has an incredible amount of material out there. He was a social philosopher, a reformer, a poet, a lawyer,” Morella said. “Law was the outlet he found to channel his gifts, his innate sympathy for his fellow man. If he found someone else in trouble, he couldn’t help but get involved. He would mesmerize juries for hours, sometimes speaking extemporaneously.”The performance, which can be tailored from about an hour to two hours, covers all aspects of Darrow’s career, from early labor cases to the Leopold and Loeb murder defense, to the Scopes Monkey trial to First Amendment issues.“I think the worst thing is his ego and his hubris, and in some ways that contributes to his best things. Because I think his enduring legacy is he had the uncanny ability to articulate what he wanted to say in the moment and yet recognize how it would resonate in future generations,” Morella said. “I don’t think you’d want to change a word in some of his summations.”Morella and his collaborators also tinkered with the form of the one-person play, which usually focuses on reminisces. For Darrow, he said the effort is to recreate parts of his illustrious career, with the audience becoming the jury as Morella is recreating a summation.Comments from those who have seen his performance in “The Clarence Darrow Story” have been glowing.“Impressive, absorbing.. . The material is legendary and Paul Morella plays Darrow impeccably; his fluidity in the role seems natural, almost effortless,” according to a reviewer from The Washington Post. “The presentation was truly great. The acclaim has been unanimous,” wrote John Hannah, Jr., chief judge of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas, who hired Morella for a judicial program. One-man show chronicles the life of Clarence Darrowcenter_img June 1, 2003 Regular Newslast_img read more

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